Earlier in the week, Brad Stevens had suggested that there were lineups that he wanted to experiment with but just hasn’t had the chance of late because of availability. Over the last two games, Aron Baynes has regained his starting five spot at the 5 next to Al Horford after starting 68 games last year. Everything old is new again for Stevens.
“We just haven’t had (Baynes) and Al healthy for very much of the year. It’s been hard to play them together plus with all our depth on the wing, it’s hard to get minutes for everybody when those guys are playing together,” Stevens said. “It’s nice to have them back, it’s nice to have them available. We need to have them as an option moving forward.”
Going big isn’t lost on their teammates either. After Baynes finished with a double-double and Horford was an efficient 19 & 11 with three blocks and a +11 in the box score, Kyrie Irving showed some appreciation for the front court, saying, “I think it helps just having a big body out there, multiple big bodies with Al and Baynes. (Them) setting screens, I know I have a great chance of getting open. He does a great job setting them. I really like it a lot when he’s out there playing. Big Dog guards the house and we need that.”
“We need rim protection. We’ve been relatively small, not in terms of height, but just in terms of our physical presence out there when we have some of our wings guarding bigs,” Kyrie continued. “It’s a tough cover no matter what in this league. Coach had a great game plan of putting those guys both out there. He managed the game really well. It worked for us tonight.”
Baynes and Horford have only appeared in 115 minutes of 33 games together this season. For most of the season, it’s been almost comical how few games they’ve been healthy together, like battleships passing each other in the night. Combined, the Celtics have had to play thirty-four games with either Baynes or Horford on the shelf and four with neither of them available. And when they are both healthy, there are games where they never share the court together, with Baynes primarily backing Horford up in the second unit.
With both healthy heading into the post season, the results so far have been as impactful as a mid-season trade or buyout addition and the reunion has brought out the best out of each other. “He’s such a great player. He’s able to cover up a lot of people’s mistakes,” Baynes said. “He’s such a big defensive presence. I just get out there and try to be in position. He does the same thing.”
Horford echoed those sentiments about his battery mate after the Celtics’ 114-112 victory over the Pacers that for now, makes them the #4 seed in the East and give them home court advantage against Indiana in the first round. “He’s very engaged obviously on the defensive end. He makes a big difference for us and then when his name was called on offense, he kept making plays, getting big offensive rebounds. It was great to see him with that focus,” Horford said.
Looking ahead, the road to The Finals could include a path through Indiana, Milwaukee, Toronto and/or Philadelphia, all teams with big front courts that Boston will have to body up. When asked about the playoff environment at The Garden on Friday night and getting so many minutes banging around in the paint, Baynes called it “fun.” Give me three more months of fun, please.