The Celtics offense has been stifled by the Heat zone defense. Here’s how to beat it

How the Boston Celtics can beat the Miami Heat zone. The Celtics were able to get low versus the zone in game 3, finding gaps along the baseline and the center. Miami countered this by swapping Kelly Olynyk for Andre Iguodola. Instead of having Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler constantly at the top, they could switch around easier and not have to hide someone in the lower line of the zone. That makes the center of the zone even more vital.

Whenever there becomes this gap around the free throw line, the Celtics need to have a body there. I understand Rob Williams is screening here, but when they get it to this point the zone shrinks inward. The problem is most of the time the guy in the center will get the ball and immediately dish it back to the perimeter. There were a couple of occasions where Jaylen Brown fumbled the ball driving into this center point, which seemed to deter them from trying to get back to this spot. If they get in the center, hold the ball, and face the basket, it puts more pressure on the zone to squeeze towards the middle. If they don’t, it’s an easy two points for us. So when they shrink and it goes back to the perimeter, you’ve got the defense where you want it. If they fly out to contest the three, up fake and drive to the paint. The defense scrambles and you go from there. If they stay towards the paint, you get those uncontested threes that have haunted the Celtics so far in this series. The Heat are flying around defensively and have been playing high on the perimeter, so if the Celtics can execute this plan, they should get some easier drives. The Heat clogged driving lanes last night, but if you play from the middle of the zone, things should open up.

The lineup that should be run is with the best 5 players on the court. This leaves Jayson Tatum at the 5, but versus Bam Adebayo it’s not a huge difference in the height category. Tatum would have to be the stopper on the Goran Dragic/Bam pick and roll action, and we haven’t really seen if he can defend it. It’s a risk but we’ve got to start taking some. Marcus Smart should guard Tyler Herro at all times in game 5, so someone else is going to have to guard Dragic. I’d put Jaylen Brown or Gordon Hayward on him over Kemba Walker, because their length and height will make the pick and roll more difficult. Passing over or around them is going to be tougher for Dragic since he’s smaller in this scenario. Anything to make that alley oop pass more difficult, even just slowing it down so they don’t get easy buckets, is huge. This is the bread and butter play they’ve had all series, and it’s vital to stop it if they want to win. The Celtics are the more talented team, but they need to use that talent if they are gonna pull this comeback off. These are two big things that, if utilized, can atleast get this team to game 6.

(Originally posted on September 24, 2020)

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