Celtics find success with fourth-quarter zone defense

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Celtics find success with fourth-quarter zone defense

MIAMI When training camp began, the Boston Celtics tinkered with playing some zone defense.

What the heck, they thought. You never know when it just might come in handy.

Even though the Celtics fell short, 115-107, at Miami, the team's zone defense was certainly something the C's can build on in the future.

According to coach Doc Rivers, his team used a zone defense on 23 possessions, with the Heat scoring just six times.

"I told them at some point, the zone defense was going to get us back in a game because no one thinks we'll ever play zone," said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. "And it did. It was terrific."

For the Heat, it was indeed a sight they did not see coming.

"That's the first time we've seen zone other than practice," said Miami's Chris Bosh. "We can't expect to just come right out and destroy it."

As well as the Celtics' zone worked - they trailed by as many as 15 points in the fourth, but were within 3 with 91 seconds to play - Rivers saw room for improvement.

"The six possessions they made baskets, were dribble-drives," Rivers said. "Not only Norris Cole, but Dwyane Wade. Just because you're in a zone, someone still has to guard the ball. That's what we kept telling them."

And while Rivers recognizes the flaws to his team's zone defense, he doesn't believe fixing it will be a major issue.

"We just let them beat us off the dribble," Rivers said. "That's an area that's very fixable. That's an area . . . that's where they beat us."

Report: Ainge could prefer George to Butler with Nets pick

Report: Ainge could prefer George to Butler with Nets pick

Will the Celtics part with the right to Brooklyn’s 2017 first-round pick in order to get a star before Thursday’s trade deadline? 

MORE TRADE TALK

Citing a pair of NBA executives, Frank Isola of the New York Daily News wrote this week that Danny Ainge’s willingness to trade the pick should be in doubt.

Sola named Chicago’s Jimmy Butler and Paul George as potential targets, adding that the C’s might include the latter.   

Wrote Isola: 

Two executives doubt that Ainge, who historically plays it close to the vest, would give up the Nets pick in a deal for Butler. However, Ainge might consider it in a trade for George, the Pacers-free agent-to-be who has expressed doubts over re-signing with the Pacers.

‘With Danny, no one ever knows what he might do,' said the executive. ‘He's one of the best. If he thinks he can make a run at the Cavs this season, considering all the injuries Cleveland has had, I can see him making a move.

‘Everyone is talking about Butler to Boston but Danny and Larry Bird go way back. Paul George could be the sleeper.’

This season, the 26-year-old George is averaging 22.3 points 6.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists a game. 

Blount on free agency: 'I definitely want to go back to New England'

Blount on free agency: 'I definitely want to go back to New England'

LeGarrette Blount knows where he wants to be for 2017. Ever since he re-joined the Patriots in 2014 following a short stay in Pittsburgh, the 250-pound back has been very open about how he wants to play out the rest of his career in New England. 

Those feelings haven't changed, even as he faces free-agency after having recorded the best season of his seven-year career.

"I just want to make sure that I go to this free agency with an open mind, knowing that I definitely want to go back to New England," he told NFL Total Access on Monday. "I love it there. I love the culture. I love the players. I've become close with a lot of the guys. Obviously you know how my running back group is.

"We'll cross that bridge whenever we cross it. On that point, I feel great. I'm in amazing shape. I feel like I could play 100 more years if I have to."

Blount finished 2016 with career-highs in attempts (299) yards (1,161) and touchowns (18). His ability to help the Patriots close games in the fourth quarter was notable throughout the course of the season, and he was among the most effective goal-line backs in the league. His 18 rushing scores are a franchise record.

Toward the end of the season, as Dion Lewis worked his way back into the Patriots offense, Blount had his workload cut into, and his fumble in the Super Bowl was a near-catastrophic moment -- his devastated reaction to which was caught expertly by NFL Films. But a big-picture view of Blount's year would reveal that he  posted the most prodictive "big back" season the Patriots have had in more than a decade.

Blount signed a one-year deal with the Patriots last offseason after seeing his 2015 prematurely ended by way of a hip injury. He turned 30 in December.