In the zone: 10 takeaways from Celtics/Raptors

A curveball was thrown by Joe Mazzulla halfway through the third quarter. Having played man defense in the first half, the Boston Celtics switched to a zone defense, using their standard switching scheme that normally has a big man in drop. They went to a 2-1-2 zone specifically.


This defensive alignment has featured Jrue Holiday as a quarterback in the middle of the field in the past. He can close out on drives, take up space, and organize the defense around him thanks to his strength and speed. The Celtics have excellent rim protection and length from Kristaps Porzingis and Luke Kornet on the backcourt, and Tatum’s inclusion in the front two is a terrific approach to add perimeter point-of-attack defense.

I have this zone look in three clips. The video up top is straightforward. Toronto attempted a three-pointer, as Boston attempted a zone look. Perhaps they didn’t see a way to break down a zone with a flexible defender like Holiday in the middle, or perhaps they just felt it was a nice look.


The Raptors start to move on the very next possession. It’s interesting to note that Jayson Tatum seems to be the only one who is lost in the covering. That’s okay, though; this technique isn’t often used, and he will improve. Holiday’s defensive mastery keeps everything together, and Tatum can move to the weak side thanks to Pritchard’s rotation.


The easiest thing about this zone approach that I enjoy is how ball handlers can be easily iced toward the baseline and sideline. Observe how the Celtics can have three defenders occupy the middle of the court when the ball is on the wing. By drawing a defender just a little bit into the paint, they can also stop middle drives for players who are not on the ball. It’s challenging to


The Raptors eventually establish a secondary drive and enter the paint. But two seven-foot bigs confront Thaddeus Young, and the block moves swiftly after. Toronto is given another chance, but it fails. Dennis Schroder then loses the ball on the third try while attempting to drive into the low block while dodging Boston’s size and on-ball pressure.

The Raptors attempt to break through the zone this time by getting Scottie Barnes to wrap the ball around the nail. Barnes is soon forced out of position by Holiday, and the Celtics change up their perimeter pickup spots. Al Horford and Kornet close in to block Pascal Siakam’s cross-cut, forcing the Raptors to try to open up the zone with a pick-and-roll. It is ineffective; the Raptors turn the ball over once again as the Celtics pressure the rock and cut off angles.



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