Celtics-Knicks review: C's in the zone vs. Knicks


Celtics-Knicks review: C's in the zone vs. Knicks

NEW YORK The Boston Celtics have been in a bit of a zone lately with their suffocating defense and big plays being delivered from a slew of players.

But on Monday, the C's were literally in a zone - as in a zone defense to start the night.

"I felt dirty about it," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said afterward.

But the end result, a 102-96 victory over the New York Knicks, made it a worthwhile gamble.

Rivers is old school when it comes to defense.

You have a man. Guard him.

And if you need help, that's what help-side defenders are for.

But in deciding to go with a zone defense early in the game, the C's threw an unexpected wrinkle into the game that threw the Knicks off balance at first.

New York's first basket of the night did not come until the 9:48 mark of the first quarter.

"It (zone defense) got them to stand around more than run all that pick-and-roll-stuff to get you in trouble," Rivers said.

And the decision to play zone, Rivers added, was made after assistant coach Kevin Eastman encouraged him to try it. Repeatedly.

"He hammered it with me all day, so I went with it," Rivers said. "He was right."

That would be one of the many right decisions made by Rivers and his staff as the C's (17-17) extend their winning streak to a season-high tying three in a row.

Here are some keys outlined prior to the game and how they actually played out for the Celtics who now embark on a five-game homestand beginning Wednesday against Phoenix.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Boston's 3-point defense has to be on top of its game against a Knicks team that lives by the long ball. New York is averaging league highs in 3-pointers made (11.3) and taken (29.2) this season.

WHAT WE SAW: The Knicks were bombing away from the jump, which was a big part of why the Celtics found themselves playing catch-up early in the game. The Knicks connected on 10 3s in the first half on 17 attempts. But Boston's defense clamped down in the second half by limiting New York to 4 3s on 15 attempts. "We took them off the 3-point line (in the second half) and made them make 2s for the most part," Rivers said.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs. Carmelo Anthony: Two explosive scorers, Pierce's leadership of late has been critical to the Celtics starting to look like the defensive-minded C's of old. And Anthony has been instrumental in New York's ascension this season which has him very much in the thick of league MVP conversations.

WHAT WE SAW: The two all-star small forwards came up with a slew of big plays for their respective teams, although Pierce came up with one or two more dagger shots that positioned the Celtics for the victory. Pierce finished with 23 points on 10-for-18 shooting while Melo had 20 points on 6-for-26 shooting.

PLAYER TO WATCH: J.R. Smith has been among the top backups this season, and should be on everyone's short list for the league's Sixth Man of the Year award. He's averaging a career-high 16.7 points per game and has had 20 or more points in five of New York's last six games.

WHAT WE SAW: Smith came off the bench as he's done all year, and finished with a game-high 24 points. And his points came in a variety of ways, not to mention he still managed to dish out four assists with just one turnover.

STAT TO TRACK: Boston's pressure defense needs to do what few teams have done against New York this season - force them into turning the ball over. The Knicks are averaging a league-low 11 turnovers per game. Meanwhile the C's are forcing 15.8 turnovers per game which ranks fifth in the league. In Boston's last two games, C's opponents averaged 20 turnovers per game.

WHAT WE SAW: Boston's defense forced the Knicks into 14 turnovers that led to 15 points for the Celtics. More important, Boston's defense disrupted the Knicks offense and forced them to do a number of things in the second half in terms of ball movement that they didn't want to do. "They made us start the ball pretty much at half court," Smith said. "It is hard to start plays when you have to start where you don't want to start it. It was tough."

Bulls trade Butler to Timberwolves in blockbuster draft-night trade

Bulls trade Butler to Timberwolves in blockbuster draft-night trade

MINNEAPOLIS -- Ever since Tom Thibodeau took over in Minnesota last summer, a reunion with Chicago Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler seemed destined to happen.

For the coach that desperately wanted a defensive-minded veteran to set the tone for a talented young roster, and for the player who only truly realized what he had in that hard-driving leader after he was gone.

"It's been something that over a prolonged period of time there have been different moments where he's had to consider it and think about it," Butler's agent, Bernie Lee, told The Associated Press. "In some ways it feels like it was spoken into reality."

In the blockbuster move of draft night, the Bulls traded Butler and the 16th overall pick Thursday night to the Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 overall pick as the Wolves try to finally put an end to a 13-year playoff drought.

The trade brings together Butler and Wolves coach and president Thibodeau, who coached the Bulls for five seasons before being fired in 2015. Thibodeau helped Butler become an All-NBA performer and earn a $95 million contract and Butler helped Thibodeau instill the brass-knuckle mentality into those Bulls teams.

"The longer you are with somebody, the more deposits you have with each other, the trust is there," Thibodeau said. "You're not afraid to tell them the truth. So I think I know him well. I know the things that are important to him. I know he wants to win. And he wants to win big."

Now they're together again, trying to lead a franchise that has not made the playoffs since 2004.

"It's one of those moments where the excitement of tonight has to carry forward to the work that has to come," Lee said. "And if it does, it will really be a beautiful thing to see."

The Wolves paid a big price: Besides surrendering the lottery pick, they gave up a rising star in LaVine, who is coming off of a torn ACL and Dunn, last year's No. 5 overall pick. They were among the youngest teams in the league last season, cast as a team that could be a force once all of their pups grew up.

After a disappointing first season overseeing the operation, Thibodeau grabbed a fully grown pit bull to toughen the team up.

Butler played for Thibodeau for four seasons in Chicago, developing from an unheralded, late-first round draft pick into a perennial All-Star. The two strong-willed workaholics clashed on occasion during their time together and Butler said during the Olympics in Rio last summer that it was "love-hate" relationship.

But he also acknowledged that his appreciation for Thibodeau's hard-driving style increased as time went on, especially when the Bulls struggled in their first season under the more player-friendly Fred Hoiberg.

"They've come by their relationship honestly," Lee said. "They worked through a period to where they really came to learn what the other is about. ... They have a basis to work from, but things have changed and they've changed and adapted. They will take the starting point that they have, but they have to build on it."

The Wolves drafted Arizona sharpshooter Lauri Markkanen for the Bulls at No. 7 and the Bulls took Creighton forward Justin Patton at No. 16 for the Wolves. Patton is a 6-foot-11 forward who was the Big East freshman of the year after averaging 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds last season.

When Thibodeau was hired as team president and coach last summer, he quickly set his sights on bringing Butler to Minnesota. The two sides engaged on serious discussions on draft night last year, but couldn't close it.

LaVine was having a breakout third season in the league when he tore the ACL in his left knee in February. His rehabilitation has gone well, but the injury certainly complicated the Wolves' re-engaging Chicago on Butler. Adding to the difficulty was Dunn's underwhelming first year in Minnesota, which diminished his trade value.

With all that in play, the Wolves were forced to also offer up the No. 7 pick this season to push the deal over the top. But they did receive Chicago's first-round pick in return. The move, and the package they assembled to make it, signal an organization that is desperate to start winning.

Butler averaged career highs in points (23.9), rebounds (6.2) and assists (5.5) in his sixth season. He is also one of the league's top defenders, an absolute necessity for a young team that finished 26th in the league in defensive efficiency last season. He will turn 28 in September, right in the middle of his prime for a team in need of veteran leadership.

"The most important thing to me are the things he does every day, the way he practices, the things that he does in meetings, the way he prepares before a game, the things that he does for recovery," Thibodeau said. "He'll show our players a lot of the things that he's learned along the way."

The move also represents the first significant steps toward an overhaul for the Bulls. Despite a spirited effort, the Bulls were eliminated by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Wade opted in for the final year of his contract, but that isn't stopping Chicago from pivoting to a new, younger nucleus that includes LaVine, Dunn, Markkanen and Denzel Valentine.

Now that Butler is gone, the 35-year-old Wade could become a buyout candidate as the Bulls go into rebuilding mode.

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Celtics draft night recap


BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Celtics draft night recap

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0:41 - Danny Ainge on why he saw Jayson Tatum as the best player in the draft, Kristaps Porzingis rumors, and why Josh Jackson canceled his Celtics draft workout.

4:49 - Rich Gotham joins to discuss taking Jayson Tatum with the 3rd overall pick, being patient with the development of players and if there were any potential trades out there.

9:53 - Kyle Draper, A. Sherrod Blakely, and Brian Scalabrine break down the selection of Jayson Tatum and talk about the rumor that the Celtics were in discussions with the Pacers for Paul George. 

13:15 - Tom Giles, Michael Holley, and Kayce Smith debate if it was worth trading down to the 3rd pick to draft Tatum and how Tatum will always be compared to Markelle Fultz for his whole career.