There’s nothing actually wrong with the Boston Celtics zone defense, which the team has used on multiple occasions this season, almost solely while looking to turn around big deficits by throwing a curveball. It can be effective, like it was last night against the Chicago Bulls, when it ignited a comeback (with a big assist to Ray Allen, who decided to rejuvenate from the ashes of his briefly-deceased carcass). It slowed down the Miami Heat earlier in the season, worked temporarily against the Toronto Raptors last week and generally seems to elicit good results.
Still, the zone causes me to want to throw television screens straight through my window and kick the nearest wall with a steel-toed boot. Apologies for my machismo and the fact that I value something other than a defense’s effectiveness, but there’s nothing that infuriates me more than watching Doc Rivers — whose team’s success has been built on fierce man-to-man defense — command his pawns to play a 2-3 zone, the 5th- and 6th-grade CYO hoops special. There can be nothing more emasculating in the NBA than a coach looking at his players and saying, “You know what? Man-to-man ain’t working today. Let’s junk things up and see if we can confuse this Chicago Bulls squad, which — oh, by the way — is giving Mike James and John Lucas III serious minutes.”
I suppose my loathing of Boston’s zone defense isn’t the zone itself — it’s that every time the Celtics use the zone, they do so when down by 15 or 20 points, with Rivers presumably shrugging his shoulders and saying something to the effect of, “Well, nothing else has worked so far.” Zone defenses have proven quite useful to several teams in the recent past, with the best example being the Dallas Mavericks, who varied from man-to-man on a relatively frequent basis during their 2011 championship run. But Rivers only chooses to use the zone when his team seems to have no other options. Even when the zone works, which it actually has quite often, I resent it for the very reason that THE FUCKING CELTICS WERE REDUCED TO PLAYING A GODDAMN ZONE DEFENSE.
In actuality, defense hasn’t been Boston’s problem all season and it certainly wasn’t Boston’s problem last night, when Chicago mustered just 39.5 percent shooting in its 89-80 victory. Offensive efficiency, turnovers and rebounding are Boston’s weaknesses, and they always have been. The zone defense isn’t part of the issue, and I surely shouldn’t desire to kick it in its testicles as strongly as I do. But it feels like a concession that the Celtics’ best effort can’t beat other team’s best efforts anymore, and though that surely seems right, it hurts.
(h/t @Lee_Levin on the Allen tweet)