Aron Baynes

Baynes' play key for Celtics in 91-81 victory over Pistons

Baynes' play key for Celtics in 91-81 victory over Pistons

Aron Baynes was a game-time decision after taking a blow to the stomach against San Antonio on Friday.

He played on Sunday afternoon, and delivered one of his best games of the season which was indeed a kick in the stomach to Detroit whose fourth-quarter comeback efforts came up short in Boston’s 91-81 victory.

Baynes didn't score much (six points), but his defense and rebounding (13 rebounds) would prove pivotal in Boston's win. 

Boston (23-5) got off to a slow start but spent most of the game playing with a lead. Al Horford led the Celtics with 18 points, nine rebounds and six assists while Kyrie Irving chipped in with 16 points. Tobias Harris led all scorers with 19 points.

But Detroit, among the best comeback teams in the NBA, didn’t go down quietly.

Detroit (14-12), which has now lost six straight, were on the comeback trail with a 12-0 run in the fourth that coincided with the Celtics missing 12 straight shots.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens had seen enough when he called a time-out with 4:19 to play and Boston clinging to a 79-75 lead.

Jaylen Brown ended the shot-making slump for Boston with a driving basket to the lane, only for Andre Drummond to get a tip-in – his first points of the game – cut into Boston’s lead.

As Detroit fought back, the Celtics continued to make all the necessary plays which included a 3-pointer by Al Horford and a driving lay-up by Marcus Smart, the latter putting Boston ahead 89-80.

While they were getting it done down the stretch, the player of the game for Boston was easily Aron Baynes.

A game-time decision after taking a blow to the stomach at San Antonio on Friday, Baynes had six points and a season-high 13 rebounds in addition to doing an impressive job in limiting Drummond all game.

Drummond, who had 26 points and 22 rebounds against Boston on Nov. 27, was held to just six points and 15 rebounds.

Detroit opened the game with a 10-4 run, looking to pick up where they left off when the two met on Nov. 27 and the Pistons handed Boston a 118-108 defeat, Boston’s worst loss of the season.

However, the Celtics bounced back with a 11-0 run of their own and continued to play with a lead that slowly but surely, steadily expanded.

Leading 44-37 at the half, Boston scored the first five points of the third – a tip-in by Baynes, a Brown lay-up and a technical free throw by Kyrie Irving after Drummond was whistled for a technical with 10:23 to play in the third.

Boston would spend most of the third quarter milking a double-digit lead, with the quarter ending with the Celtics ahead 73-59 as Terry Rozier drained a 3-pointer that just beat the third quarter horn sounding off.

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Baynes probable for Sunday vs. Pistons

Baynes probable for Sunday vs. Pistons

Aron Baynes was unable to finish the Celtics' 105-102 loss at San Antonio on Friday night after taking a hard knee to the stomach.

However, team officials say the 6-foot-10 Baynes is probable for Sunday’s game at Detroit.

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His availability will be a huge factor for Boston (22-5) as they try to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time since they opened the season with back-to-back defeats at Cleveland and in the home opener against Milwaukee.

If Baynes is available to play, he will likely begin the game as the starting center, where he would be matched up against his former Pistons teammate, Andre Drummond.

When the two played on Nov. 27, Detroit came away with a 118-108 win.

Baynes is often inserted in the starting lineup to help better match up against teams with dominant centers such as Drummond. But against the Pistons, the Celtics opted to instead start Marcus Morris who had 13 points and five rebounds in 22 minutes.

Meanwhile, Baynes had six points and six rebounds off the bench in 12 minutes, 41 seconds.

And Drummond?

He beat up the Celtics all game, finishing with 26 points on 10-for-12 shooting (lots of lay-ups and dunks, of course) along with 22 rebounds – the most any player has had against Boston this season.

More Baynes against Drummond makes a lot of sense, not only because they have comparable size but also due to Baynes having proven himself to be one of the best defenders – not just among big men, but among all players – this season.

Baynes has a defensive rating of 91.5 which leads the NBA.

“That’s the game now,” Baynes recently told NBC Sports Boston. “You have to be able to guard different guys now. That’s what I try to do, stay in front of them, make them take tough shots. At the end of the day, taking pull-up two's and contesting it, that’s the best thing statistically for our defense.”

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Popovich is NBA gold standard but Stevens could be on his way

Popovich is NBA gold standard but Stevens could be on his way

For years, Gregg Popovich has been the standard by which all NBA coaches – the successful ones, at least – are measured.

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He is easily the most accomplished coach in the NBA and when he finally decides to call it quits, he’ll be remembered as one of the best ever.

Being that good requires a keen eye for talent, which is in part why the Spurs (17-8) remain one of the top teams in the Western Conference despite having played their entire season up to this point without their best player, Kawhi Leonard.

He is reportedly going to make his long-awaited season debut on Saturday, the day after the Celtics play the Spurs.

Regardless of whether Leonard plays, you know the Spurs are going to give the Celtics all they can handle.

Dealing with key players being out is something Celtics coach Brad Stevens has managed all season.

First, he lost Gordon Hayward five minutes into the season. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford have each missed games as well.

And yet here are the Celtics, boasting the best record in the NBA (22-4), which includes a perfect 8-0 record against the Western Conference.

Popovich remains the standard every coach tries to meet. But you would be hard-pressed to find another NBA coach whose trending in that direction more so than Stevens.

“He is a special person,” Popovich said of Stevens. “And that’s on and off the court. He’s very intelligent. Intelligence is fine. But if it doesn’t come along with incisiveness and judgment and emotional maturity, it doesn’t do you much good. He’s got all those things and that’s large; not many people have that. It shows the way he handles people, the way he coaches. He’s going to be a great one before it’s all over with and he’s already a hell of a coach.”

The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown will wear goggles tonight to protect his inflamed right eye. He missed the victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday with the eye inflammation. Rookie forward Jayson Tatum didn’t travel with the team to San Antonio for personal reasons and is expected arrive there this afternoon and expects to play tonight. Here are five more under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game:

ARON BAYNES
He has been the fifth starter, but don’t be fooled. The 6-foot-10 center has been an instrumental figure in Boston’s ascension to the top spot defensively in the NBA. And the foundation for his defense began in San Antonio under the watchful eye of Popovich. Baynes’ defensive rating is 91.2, which is tops among all NBA players.

HALFTIME, RIGHT TIME
From the time the halftime horn sounds, to their return to the floor, the Celtics become a different team. Despite an impressive 22-4 record, the Celtics have finished the second quarter facing a deficit 12 times. But in those 12 games, they’re 8-4. “At halftime, it’s not a lot who-rah this, who-rah that,” said Kyrie Irving. “It’s more or less, what we need to execute best at going forward and just correcting things. Brad comes in and says what he needs to say, and we just go out and do it as professionals.”

SMART DECISIONS
For all the struggles Marcus Smart has had this season shooting the ball, he’s still going to play major minutes for the Celtics for two reasons: his defense and playmaking. From the time Boston selected him, Smart has distinguished himself as an above-average defender. But what we’ve seen more of this season is his evolution into being a really good playmaker. His alley-oop passes to Al Horford for dunks, and his thread-the-needle passes to teammates cutting to the rim, have been big pluses this season. He’s shooting just 29.8 percent from the field, but he’s averaging 5.4 assists, which leads all reserves this season.

DANIEL THEIS
When you think about international NBA players coming on out of nowhere, the Spurs usually come to mind. But the Celtics have an international talent in Theis whose impact has been a key to Boston’s success this season. The 25-year-old rookie from Germany is coming off a career-high 11-rebound performance the win over Dallas. For the season, he is averaging 4.5 points and 4.2 rebounds in just 12.5 minutes per game.

LEONARD’S RETURN
Boston will have its hands full tonight, but at least they don’t have to worry about Leonard, who is expected to miss what will be his 26th game this season. The two-time All-Star and former NBA Defensive Player of the Year has yet to play in a game this season due to a right quadriceps injury and is reportedly set to return to action at Phoenix on Saturday. Leonard was third in the league’s MVP voting a year ago when he averaged 25.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists along with 1.8 steals per game.