CLEVELAND – As the media scrum mad their way on to the Quicken Loans Arena Saturday morning, there were a few Celtics players already on the floor getting up shots.
Among them was Aron Baynes, taking – and making – a lot of 3’s.
Upon first sight, it might seem a bit unusual to see the 6-foot-10, 260-plus pounder stroking it from long range.
But as we’ve seen with Baynes this season, teams will either learn the hard way or respect his shooting range which could become a factor in tonight's Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals with the Celtics coming in with a 2-0 series lead over the Cavaliers.
Baynes comes in shooting 50 percent from 3 in the playoffs and isn’t afraid to take them.
- MORE C'S - Bill Russell released from the hospital
His emergence as a viable 3-point shooting threat began in the preseason.
“When he first signed here, he came by in the preseason and was just shooting around,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens recalled. “I was down there with him. I just remember him hitting shot after shot after shot. It was mostly 15 to 17 feet.”
That led to a conversation about corner 3’s and above-the-break 3’s.
“He’s shot them every single day, through training camp, practice, through pre-game shooting and everything else,” Stevens recalled. “We’ve encouraged him to shoot all year especially from the corners.”
And he has made teams pay, evident by him making more corner 3s (eight) in the second-round series against the Sixers, than Philly’s entire team combined (five).
While there are many shocked at how Baynes has been shooting the 3-ball, don’t count him among those who didn’t see this coming.
- MORE CELTICS - Kobe has a suggestion that could make Tatum even better
“I’ve put in the work and I’ve put in the time, but like I say, ‘it’s not the number of one thing I work on,” he said. “It’s not the thing I spend the most time on. I’m always trying to expand my game, and in this day and age, its’ about trying to create space. And what better way than trying to step out there and knock down a few shots. But like I said, I’m not trying to live by it.”
Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s all-important Game 3:
Tatum, 20 can move into sole possession of fourth place on the NBA’s all-time leaders list of playoff starts for a rookie. He’s currently tied with Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio, 2012) and Nate McMillan (Seattle, 1987). The only players ahead of him are Matt Maloney (Houston, 1997) with 16, ex-Celtic Courtney Lee (Orlando, 2009) with 17 and Richard Dumas (Phoenix, 1993) with 20.
The Celtics are a diversified bunch when it comes to scoring, but lately, the hot hand from the outset of games has been Jaylen Brown. He comes into tonight’s Game 3 matchup having averaged 13.5 points per game in the first quarter of this series.
Boston has done a nice job of not allowing their turnovers to have a significantly adverse effect on the game. There’s a reason for that. Of the 17 turnovers Boston has committed, only six were live-ball miscues. That means their mistakes did not immediately allow the Cavs to get out in transition which has been a factor in Cleveland’s scoring not coming as freely and consistently as they would hope.
Boston comes into tonight’s game with four players averaging 17 or more points per game. That hasn’t been done by a Celtics team since 1987. The four current Celtics averaging at least 17 points per game are Jayson Tatum (18.1), Jaylen Brown (17.8), Terry Rozier (17.4) and Al Horford (17.1). The four Celtics in 1987 were Larry Bird (27.0), Kevin McHale (21.1), Dennis Johnson (18.9) and Robert Parish (18.0).
The Celtics’ team defense has been praised for how they have managed to limit LeBron James’ efficiency in this series. While he’s easily the best scorer in this series – most series for that matter – Boston has made it a lot harder than he’s accustomed to, to get buckets. He’s shooting 46.7 percent from the field in the two games against Boston. Of the four Celtics who have defended James for at least 10 possessions in this series, three (Marcus Morris, Semi Ojeleye and Terry Rozier) have limited him to a lower shooting percentage than what he’s averaging for the series.