How two early possessions changed the game for Celtics against the Raptors

(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The zone defense is becoming more and more prevalent in today's NBA. No team can play it for 48 minutes effectively at the pro level due to the defensive three-second rule and the amount of space to be covered. However, it's a change of pace teams like to turn to in order to hide a weak defender or take a team out of its offensive rhythm.

The Nets were very effective in doing that on Monday night in their win over the Celtics, particularly in the third quarter. Boston's offense sputtered against the 2-3 zone as Brooklyn doubled up the C's 44-21 in the frame, giving them a lead big enough to hold off a late Celtics charge.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse surely watched that contest, saw Boston's offensive zone struggles and, despite not playing a ton of zone as a team usually, he decided to give it a shot against the Celtics on Monday night. He did so under pretty unique circumstances, as the Raptors played with two traditional bigs (Serge Ibaka and Greg Monroe) on their front line against a Celtics team that had Gordon Hayward playing power forward late in the first quarter. Needless to say, having a 6-foot-10 Ibaka chase Hayward on the perimeter was not an ideal proposition defensively, but if Ibaka and Monroe could stay on the floor together, the Raptors would have a huge advantage in the post and on the glass. Nurse rolled the dice that the zone could cover up that weakness and give Toronto a chance to take advantage on the other end.

It was evident however that the Celtics did some work on their own zone offense during their off day since they no longer looked like a team flummoxed by what to do when they saw it. Case in point is the decision making of Terry Rozier on the very first possession the zone is unveiled.