BOSTON -- Aron Baynes has a very light-hearted, funny demeanor and is often captured in games with a smile on his face.
But don’t get it twisted.
He’s 6-foot-11, weighs 260 or so pounds and is not afraid to mix it up and kick a little ass in the process.
That’s why the Boston Celtics have placed a high premium on what Baynes brings to the floor.
Rarely will there be regular season games in which his value will be greater than it is tonight when the Boston Celtics (34-10) put their seven-game winning streak on the line against a surging New Orleans squad led by their all-star big man tandem of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis.
The duo has helped lead the Pelicans (22-20) to the sixth-best record in the West with wins in three of their last four games.
And while it’ll take all of the Celtics defensively to limit New Orleans’ 1-2 punch, the first hit will have to come from Baynes.
Baynes, whose 94.7 defensive rating is tops among all players averaging at least 18 minutes per game, understands the challenge that awaits him tonight.
“They’re both great players,” Baynes told NBC Sports Boston. “They have extensive abilities. You just have to go out there and play them and make things as tough as possible. They both have the ball in their hands a bit; both can create. But at the same time, they can both go out and make plays by themselves. So, it’s one of those things, it’s not individual defense. We’ll need team defense. That’s one thing we’ve been pretty good at most of the year. We really have to stay geared on that. It’s a five-man defensive effort for sure.”
Success tonight will involve multiple Celtics chipping in.
But the tone-setter for Boston defensively will have to be Baynes, a role that seems to be an expanded one from what he has been doing throughout his NBA career.
In his sixth NBA season, Baynes has been used primarily as a role player coming off the bench. Here with the Celtics, Baynes has made 32 starts compared to just 24 in his previous five seasons combined.
And his defensive rating has never been this good despite having it be less than 100.0 in two of the last three seasons.
Baynes keeps things fairly simple when it comes to playing defense.
“You know, you want to stay between your man and the basket,” Baynes said. “You want to make it as tough as you can. We’re playing against the best athletes in the world here who can make some incredible plays. What I’m trying to do is make it that much tougher for them.”
Baynes attributes the success he seems to have against most talented bigs, in part to the preparation by the coaching staff.
“We have great coaches here (that) watch so much film,” Baynes said. “They tell you (the opponent’s) tendencies, whatever you need to do for the upcoming game, they put you in great position. As long as you stay within the system, you’re usually in a pretty good spot. That’s what I try and do.”
Baynes’ emergence defensively has been among the keys to Boston’s defense which has been among the NBA’s top groups most of this season and currently have a league-best defensive rating of 99.6.
Jaylen Brown remembers talking with the Celtics coaching staff this summer about Baynes, a player Brown acknowledged he wasn’t too familiar with.
“They were excited about what he would add to the team,” Brown recalled.
And those talents will be needed tonight in dealing with Cousins and Davis, arguably the best 1-2 big man punch in the NBA.
“You have two of the best bigs in the league playing next to each other,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Both are supremely skilled. DeMarcus plays at the top of the key a lot, with the ball. He’s an isolation matchup problem there, as well as the block. And his ability to pass the ball, initiate offense has allowed them to play on a bunch of different, unique actions with another big. And obviously Davis and his ability to score the ball, his ability to roll to the rim, transition, all that stuff … they’re both very, very good.”
And the same can be said for Baynes defensively, acknowledging that it’s easier to focus most of his time and energy at that end of the floor based on the make-up of the Celtics’ roster.
“I still have moments where I can still look for my offense. But overall, I’m trying to make it easier for the other guys,” said Baynes who added, “I have complete confidence in my offense, but when you got Kyrie Irving on your team it doesn’t matter how good you think you are offensively.”