For the majority of his career, Kevin Garnett has been one of the best defenders in the NBA. In many views, he's been the gold standard on how to play NBA level man-to-man/help defense. So when the Celtics were getting "80's Lakers Showtimed" by the Miami Heat, Doc decided to switch it up. Drastically. Doc instructed his team to run the zone defense late in the third quarter, in an attempt to make one final run.
While Steve Kerr and the TNT broadcast team were suggesting that Doc might be best served to rest his guys due to A) having another game the next night at New Orleans and B) the condensed lockout schedule, Doc had other plans. Thus, we all witnessed KG directing the zone defense, in both the 2-3 and 3-2 sets. We delve into the GreenLab and examine each zone set, and how the Celtics executed.
Celtics Zone Defense Q3 at Miami:
- 0:00-0:20 – Zone set 1, 3-2 – Battier misses a three, but Miami gets a good look
- 0:21-0:42 – Zone set 2, 2-3 – Cole misses a 3
- 0:43-1:01 – Zone set 3, 2-3 – Cole misses a runner, Haslem misses a put-back
- 1:02-1:27 – Zone set 4, 3-2 – LeBron missed runner
- 1:28-1:40 – Zone set 5, 2-3 – Haslem misses lay-up
- 1:41-2:12 – Zone set 6, 2-3 – LeBron pass deflected by Dooling, turnover
Just looking at the above log, it doesn't tell the entire story. Miami was able to get good looks, but just missed a few. In the 4th set, Miami loads up the right side, leaving LeBron on the left to try and do work. By flashing Haslem to the middle, he creates space for LeBron to work and he does get to the basket. In the 5th set, Haslem and LeBron work a quick give-and-go as Haslem passes to LeBron at the left wing, cuts to the middle where Rondo is, and is able to get the pass back and get into the lane and misses a lay-up. The Celtics setup was sound, having KG in the middle and Rondo up top usually with Dooling. All three are "long" and can use that wing span to cover ground.
Celtics Zone Defense Q4 at Miami:
- Zone Set 7, 2-3 (Foul on DWade)
- Zone Set 8, 2-3 (Bosh carry, turnover)
- Zone Set 9, 3-2 (Missed Wade jumper)
- Zone Set 10, 2-3 (Foul on Cole 2 FT)
- Zone Set 11, 2-3 (Cole missed 3, goes out of bounds)
- Zone Set 12, 2-3 (Wade drive and score)
- Zone Set 13, 2-3 (KG deflection, steal)
- Zone Set 14, 2-3 (Bosh lay-up)
- Zone Set 15, 2-3 (LeBron missed right wing 3)
- Zone Set 16, 2-3 (Cole drive, arm shield, KG block)
- Zone Set 17, 2-3 (Cole missed floater)
- Zone Set 18, 2-3 (LeBron transition lay-up)
- Zone Set 19, 2-3 (DWade drive, slapped out of bounds)
- Zone Set 20, 2-3 (DWade missed baseline 3)
- Zone Set 21, 2-3 (Cole left wing jumper)
- Zone Set 22, 2-3 (Haslem missed baseline left jumper)
- Zone Set 23, 2-3 (Cole missed deep 2)
- Zone Set 24, 2-3 (DWade missed fade-away left wing jumper)
- Zone Set 25, 3-2 (Cole right wing jumper)
- Zone Set 26, 2-3 (Cole fake, step in straight away jumper)
In the fourth quarter, the Celtics began with a man defense, but quickly reverted to the zone. They went to that set exclusively for about 20 more possessions or so. You can see in the clip below that Miami had difficulty scoring, but still got off some quality looks. Miami seems to load one side, with either LeBron or Wade as the lone player on the weak side. They then will consistently flash guys to the middle, which is a standard operating procedure to defeating the zone.
They also attempt the quick give-and-go right down the middle to move quickly, hoping to draw fouls. The Heat would also use LeBron and Wade on each wing, while Bosh would flash to the middle, drawing KG out of the paint, and allowing LeBron/Wade to slash through the lane.
Another thing the zone did was take Ray Allen off of Wade, who just kills him. Ray had a great night shooting the ball, but it essentially evens out by how much Wade can work him. What the zone will do, is allow Ray to sort of "hide" on defense a little, and expend less energy. Ray can simply cover his zone, following the ball to the strong side, while checking a man near him as the ball moves.
The other idea was to force LeBron and Wade to shoot long distance shots, which, with them, is your best defense. So just examining the results by possession, it appears that the Celtics zone beat Miami. But Miami did get several quality looks, except when they rushed jumpers. Don't expect a lot of this, but it was a great move by Doc to change things up and try something else when they simply could not match up at all.