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Let Aron Baynes shoot: how the Celtics center has become indispensable

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Boston’s Australian big man has doubled his minutes from all previous postseason appearances and he’s making every one of them count.

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers
Boston’s Aron Baynes faces off against Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid for the tip on May 5, 2018.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

What a night for Boston Celtics big man (and presumed feature runway model for Tommy Heinsohn’s upcoming Australian Outback-themed big and tall line) Aron Baynes. The highlight reels will cut to him stepping into a three and slamming home putbacks. The stat sheets shows a fifth-year center, who never averaged more than 11 minutes per game in previous playoff runs, blowing his usual lines out of the water.

Three-point shooting anomaly

You’d be forgiven for not calling Baynes a three-point ace before his wild improvements this postseason. Baynes hit one of his two attempts from beyond the arc in Game 5 against the Philadelphia 76ers.

This pretty shot—a corner trey of a one-armed bounce pass from Jaylen Brown, with Dario Saric closing fast to up the difficulty—helped boost the Boston run to close the second quarter up nine points.

One make on two attempts doesn’t seem like much, until it’s considered in context. Baynes didn’t take a three in his previous playoff appearances. Through the last two series, he’s 9 of 19, good enough for 47.4%. He’s taken 16 of those shots in the last five games.

It gets wackier. Baynes tried the three-ball 21 times in the entirety of the 2017-2018 season. And while that number is infinitely greater than his 2016-2017 regular season (he attempted exactly 0 threes last year), he only made three of them.

Add one more crazy accomplishment to the running list these Celtics have going: Aron Baynes has improved from shooting 3 of 21 (14.3%) in the regular season to 9 of 19 (47.4%) in 12 playoff games. That’s after four other seasons of the statistical equivalent of no makes on no attempts.

That’s bonkers.

Scoring in the restricted area

So no one outside the Celtics organization could’ve or should’ve expected such radical improvement from Baynes beyond the arc. Philadelphia, however, should’ve expected the 6’10”, 260 lbs center to cause problems when left uncovered in the paint. He went 3 of 5 inside in Game 5 against the 76ers. Two of those makes were putbacks—one with TJ McConnell doing everything (but nothing) to block Baynes out and the other where Joel Embiid was...

...right.

Baynes is 17 of 25 on shots 0-5 feet from the rim in these playoffs and went 7 for 9 against the Sixers.

Perhaps more impressive than the shots Baynes has made, is the fact that he’s making them at this clip while playing nearly double the minutes he has in previous postseason runs. And also while having the tough assignment of slowing down Embiid, one of the league’s most promising young talents. Baynes, a recurring character on Embiid posters, can get right up and keep pushing for his team on the offensive end.

Undaunted on defense

Mental toughness might top the list of impressive traits for Baynes. (Although this could be said about the Celtics in total these days and this season.) He has not averaged the minutes, the points, or the blocks, nor has he made the highlights much in his five seasons in the NBA.

Baynes has made his money as a consummate professional—using his continental body to protect the rim and never back down from an opponent. He defended Embiid for 39.2 possessions this series, 10 more than any other player during Philadelphia’s postseason run. Embiid averaged 0.3 points on those possessions. Of players who have defended Embiid for 20 possessions or more in the postseason, only Miami’s Hassan Whiteside was better.

Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics - Game One Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Celtics center’s commitment to every play has also manifested in rebounds. Baynes is +4 boards this postseason in comparison to all other playoff runs. That’s not necessarily remarkable given his sizable uptick in minutes. What it is, is logical. Predictable.

And that’s got to be the hope of almost any coach looking at a tight rotations and difficult assignments for his role players—that more playing time will naturally translate into more production. It’s not often that players (who are human, after all) can easily handle more minutes, tougher defensive tasks, under more pressure than normal.

But that’s exactly what Aron Baynes has done. Expect Stevens to look to Baynes for more of everything if and when Ty Lue sends Tristan Thompson onto the floor for more minutes. Baynes will need to keep Thompson off the offensive boards, the place where the Cavaliers’ backup center has repeatedly crushed previous Celtics teams in the playoffs.

After many seasons lacking a stout, hard-working, productive rim protector, Boston has found a rocksteady big man willing to change his game and rise to the occasion in Aron Baynes.