Terry picks apart zone defense

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Terry picks apart zone defense

BOSTON Jason Terry has no idea how well he will perform numbers-wise from one game to another.

But if it's a team that plans to use zone defense for an extended period of time, let's just say Terry's fantasy league owners might be in for a bit of a spike in points that night.

The Raptors' use of a zone put Terry in a comfort zone unlike any he has experienced thus far in Boston, and the result was a season-high 20 points and the Celtics pulling away for a 107-89 win.

"If you are going to go zone, you need Jason Terry on the floor," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "He's a zone breaker."

Not only does Terry's prowess at shooting 3s make him an ideal zone-buster, but his time in Dallas under current Mavs head coach and former Celtic Rick Carlisle has only enhanced his familiarity with zone defenses.

"In Dallas they played a lot of zone defense," Rivers said. "So that would tell you, he's practiced against it. You can see that."

Terry, who ranks fourth all-time in NBA history in 3-pointers made (1,803), nailed four 3-pointers on Saturday that all came at a time when the C's needed a basket to get on track or cement a strong surge to put away a pesky Toronto team.

"Terry Stotts (head coach in Portland), Dwane Casey (Toronto head coach), Rick Carlisle (head coach in Dallas) ... all the guys I know are going to play zone, I get extra excited (about playing against)," Terry said. "As you know, in the zone they're going to pack it in. They don't want to give up anything inside. Shooters are going to be wide open."

And if you're talking about one of the all-time greats, being left wide open, the result in that is clear - buckets.

In addition to the volume of shots made by Terry (he was 7-for-10 shooting), the timing of Terry's baskets was even more instrumental in the Celtics win.

After the Raptors cut Boston's lead to 63-61 in the third quarter following a pair of Andrea Bargnani free throws, Terry hit a 3-pointer to push the Celtics lead back to five points.

That set off a 16-3 run by Boston to close out the quarter, a run that included two additional 3-pointers by Terry.

"Knowing the offense we were running, it's a tough situation (for opposing defenses)," Terry said. "When our bigs roll hard, they have to be honored. As you see at the rim, they're catching, their finishing with dunks or lay-ups. When that happens, the defense has to suck in, they have to help. As a shooter, you love it. Your man has to tag, the ball comes; just be ready to shoot."

And that - being ready to shoot - has never been a problem for Terry.

"I don't think there will ever be any hesitation with Jason Terry," Rivers said. "Which is nice."

Blakely: Game 4 loss shows just how much Celtics miss Isaiah

Blakely: Game 4 loss shows just how much Celtics miss Isaiah

CLEVELAND --  Down the stretch in Game 4, the Celtics were desperate for someone, anyone, who could slow down Kyrie Irving.
 
But short of that, Boston could have used an offensive closer, too. You know, someone like Isaiah Thomas.

GAME 4: CAVS 112, CELTICS 99

 

The Celtics have relied on the two-time All-Star to carry much of the offensive burden this season, but he was almost always at his best in the fourth quarter.
 
A right hip injury knocked him out of this series after 1 1/2 games. Still, Boston managed to win Game 3 without him and, for large chunks of Tuesday night, seemed poised to beat the Cavs again on their home floor.
 
But as much as Game 4 was a reminder of just how special a talent Irving is (42 points, 21 in the third quarter when the game’s momentum swung in Cleveland's favor), it also provided a clue to the clueless who thought the Celtics were actually better without Isaiah Thomas.
 
Defensively?
 
Absolutely.
 
It’s no secret that teams go to great lengths to try and use his 5-foot-9 stature against him. And as we have seen, the deeper we get into the postseason the more trouble he and the Celtics seem to encounter from a defensive standpoint.
 
But just as we praise Irving for being such a special talent, Thomas has shown that he, too, has offensive gifts that, throughout this season, have left many fans, media and defenders befuddled as to how “the little fella” keeps coming up with one big play, one big shot after another.
 
But as we have learned, he has been dealing with a sore right hip injury for several weeks. The pain and discomfort eventually became too much to bear and so the Celtics did the right thing and shut him down.
 
Without him, the C's are still a good team that on any given night can knock off anyone, even the defending champs.
 
But as Game 4 reminded us, they need Thomas in order to be their best.
 
When Irving torched Boston’s entire defense with jumpers, ankle-breaking crossovers, Euro-step lay-ups and free throws, the Celtics had no one to turn to who could maybe, just maybe, go back at Irving at the other end of the floor.
 
That's what Thomas does that makes him such a special, unique talent in this league.
 
He can score in a variety of ways, with the best in the NBA.
 
We saw that this past season, when he led all players in the Eastern Conference in scoring with a 28.9 points-per-game average.
 
Boston’s excellent ball movement and high assist numbers are certainly important to the team’s success. But to make a deep and meaningful playoff run, you need one or two guys who can just go get buckets regardless of what the opponent does defensively.
 
That’s not Avery Bradley.
 
That’s not Al Horford.
 
That’s not Kelly Olynyk.
 
You can search, poke and prod this roster all you want, and you'll come up empty when it comes to finding a player like that . . . other than Isaiah Thomas.
 
The fact the Celtics were able to avoid getting swept is a victory of sorts in itself. Boston’s coaching staff, as well as the front office, has repeatedly said that as talented as their team is, they aren’t on the same level of the defending champion Cavaliers.
 
And yet here we are four games into this series and the Celtics are basically a bad half of basketball away from being tied, 2-2.
 
It says a lot about their mental toughness, their ability to handle and navigate past adversity to give themselves a chance to be competitive against any team -- including the Cavs.
 
But their success this season has always been about the collective group, regardless of how many late-game shots Isaiah Thomas knocks down.
 
And while he has his shortcomings defensively, not having him available is going to hurt them in those late-game moments when they need a closer. It’s not a coincidence the Celtics were just 2-4 when he didn’t play during the regular season.
 
So as cool as it was for them to win Game 3 without Thomas, he’s still the straw that stirs the Celtics emotionally, bringing them to levels few think they're capable of reaching.
 
They were able to get by for one night without him, but remember this: It took Marcus Smart having an Isaiah Thomas-like game of 27 points and seven made 3’s, for them to win.
 
No one did anything remotely close to that Tuesday night.
 
They looked like the Isaiah Thomas-less Celtics, which is a look they don’t need this time of year.
 
Because that look is so not about winning.