After a long, anticipated return, NBA basketball is finally back!! The season kicked off for the Celtics at home against the Philadelphia 76ers. Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward were back, and the arena was rocking. It was a game of back and forth runs in the first half, before the Celtics pulled away and won handily 105-87.
Any win against the Sixers is a big one as they seem to be on a similar trajectory as the Celtics. The two teams saw each other in last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals, and they both look to be headed back to the playoff once again this season. It is always fun to see this battle play out.
Throughout the playoff series last year and again in last night’s game, there is one matchup that always sticks out. That is Aron Baynes vs. Joel Embiid.
When Embiid is on the floor, everyone watching knows it. He brings with him a flare for the dramatics on every possession. Against Boston, he has been limited to his production compared to the other teams in the league. Brad Stevens has a strategy that involves multiple bigs (including another noted defender in Al Horford) taking turns on Embiid and various help defenders attacking from the weak side. But perhaps the biggest focal point in this strategy is Aron Baynes.
Baynes is such a crucial part in the game plan against Embiid because of his size and strength. These two attributes are used to make him as uncomfortable as possible on the littlest things throughout the game. If Embiid is going to score, he is going to have to earn it. Multiple times last night, you saw his frustration get the best of him with careless fouls or ill-advised shots. I might even go so far as to say that Aron Baynes is the kryptonite of Joel Embiid.
Last night, the game plan worked brilliantly as Baynes mostly dominated Embiid on both ends of the court. Stevens knows this ability comes from the toughness of Aron Baynes. Embiid is one of the most talented big men in today’s game. That is what makes it so tough to defend him, however, Baynes and the defensive scheme around him know how to knock Embiid off his offensive game.
The biggest takeaway is that even though Embiid finished the game with 23 points and 10 rebounds, it still felt like Baynes had total control of the matchup. Embiid shot 9 for 21 from the field and most all of those shots were contested.
On the offensive side of the ball, Baynes only scored eight points but more importantly hit two out of four threes he attempted. This style of play mirrored what was seen in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last year as Brad Stevens had Baynes start taking threes to stretch out Embiid from the paint. In these situations, Embiid has to respect the three-point specialist Aron Baynes and close out on him on the outside. All sarcasm aside, this has been wonderfully executed by Baynes to pull Embiid out from where he feels the most comfortable. It gives the rest of the team more space in the paint to create better shots.
What last night showed is that the Celtics still know how to deal with Joel Embiid and the 76ers. Baynes has the perfect mentality to go after Embiid because he does not care about ending up on the wrong end of a dunk if it means he has a chance to block the shot. That is what makes him so effective.
Stevens knows how to scheme against the Sixers, and Aron Baynes is a huge part of that. It is why the Celtics have consistently won the matchup the past two years. As Joel Embiid said himself last night, “This is not a rivalry. I don’t know our record against them but it’s pretty bad. They always kick our ass.” It was a tough night for him, so at least he got something right.