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Zoned in: C's use wrinkle to rally

12/28/2011

MIAMI -- Celtics coach Doc Rivers admitted he wasn't quite sure how his defense was faring at halftime because the Heat were generating so many transition buckets off his team's turnovers that Boston never really had much of a chance to set up its defense.

But with the Heat shooting nearly 70 percent from the floor and boasting a 20-point cushion late in the third quarter Tuesday, something had to change. So less than seven full quarters into the 2011-12 season, Rivers dipped into his bag of tricks and decided to switch to a rarely seen zone defense.

ZONED IN

How the Heat's offense fared vs. Boston's zone coverage Tuesday.

Mind you, the Celtics have thrived off their help defense system build off a man-to-man backbone during the Big Three era. In fact, the Celtics played zone defense on a mere 1.8 percent of all plays during the 2010-11 season, according to ESPN Stats and Info. But Boston was in desperate need of something to change the momentum of Tuesday's game against the Heat, so zone it was.

The result? The Heat shot just 28.6 percent and averaged a measly 0.54 points per play against the zone (as opposed to 61.9 percent and 1.17 points per play against man coverage).

"I love our team, I will say that. I love the way they fight," Rivers said. "We’ve been working on that zone since the beginning of training camp, [but] never shown it [in games]. I told them at some point it was going to get us back into a game because no one thinks we’ll ever play zone. It did, it was terrific tonight. It kind of pushed [the Heat] back on their heels, so that part of it worked. But we had such a big hole to fight back, it was difficult."

The Celtics whittled Miami's lead to a single possession twice in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. But even against the zone, the Heat produced a few big shots, most notably rookie Norris Cole stepping up with two big jumpers down the stretch.

"The only mistake we made out of zone -- and, listen, they were 6 for [21 against it], we’ll take that -- the six [shots] that they made were dribble-drive [penetration]. Not only just Cole, but Dwyane [Wade]. Just because you’re in a zone, someone still has to guard the ball. And that’s what we kept telling them. That’s where we failed. That’s the only part. Kevin Eastman put [the zone] in on the first day [of camp] and we’ve been working on it. But you can see that’s the one area, because we have the guys square, even Cole, but we just let him beat us off the dribble. That’s an area that’s very fixable. And that’s the area where they beat us."

The Heat finished the game shooting 56 percent from the floor, the third-highest regular-season field goal percentage by an opponent in the Big Three era. Hop HERE to see the previous top games, headlined by the Raptors, who shot 58 percent in a 114-112 triumph over Boston on Jan. 23, 2008.