Celtics

Celtics' not-so secret weapon anymore - Baynes for 3...

Celtics' not-so secret weapon anymore - Baynes for 3...

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.

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.

“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:

JAYSON TATUM


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.

JAYLEN BROWN


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.

TURNOVERS


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.

BALANCED ATTACK


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).

DEFENDING JAMES


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.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Does Jayson Tatum deserve MVP consideration? Kendrick Perkins thinks so

Does Jayson Tatum deserve MVP consideration? Kendrick Perkins thinks so

Let's get this out of the way: Giannis Antetokounmpo is the clubhouse leader to win his first NBA MVP award this season.

In leading the Bucks to a league-best 48-8 record, the Greek Freak is averaging 30 points and 13.6 rebounds per game.

But there's another player who might be forcing his way into the conversation, at least according to Kendrick Perkins: Jayson Tatum.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

The 21-year-old is blossoming into an NBA superstar before our very eyes, tying his career high with 41 points in a loss to the Lakers Sunday afternoon at the Staples Center.

How good was Tatum? Jaylen Brown called his performance "surreal." LeBron James called him an "ABSOLUTE PROBLEM." But Perk went even further on ESPN's "Get Up" Monday morning.

"He is a superstar in the making. Listen — Jayson Tatum overnight went from an All-Star to possibly in the MVP conversation," Perkins said. "When you watch Jayson Tatum, before the All-Star break, he killed the Clippers and Kawhi Leonard. Flat-out outplayed them. And then you watched him last night, he was putting on a clinic all across the board. He was in his suitcase. Not his bag. He was in his suitcase."

Tatum's 41-point outburst was the latest in a string of eye-opening performances where the first-time All-Star has taken his game to another level. In February, he's averaging 29.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per game on 48.3 percent shooting (46.8 percent from 3-point land).

Will that make him an MVP candidate? Not this year, but if this trajectory continues, the sky is the limit for Tatum. And if so, Celtics fans will really love how Perkins concluded his thought.

"When you look at Jayson Tatum, I wouldn't be surprised if this kid would be a Celtic for life."

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Trail Blazers, which begins Tuesday at 9 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 10 p.m. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.

NBA Power Rankings: Playoff push begins in earnest now

NBA Power Rankings: Playoff push begins in earnest now

LOS ANGELES — The NBA All-Star break is the unofficial starting point for the second half of the season. 

But more than that, it begins in earnest the playoff push that most of the league’s teams will be focused on. 

Teams near the top are trying to secure home-court advantage for as many rounds as possible, while teams that have been middle of the pack are trying to seal up a postseason spot. 

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

And then there are those on the outside looking in, teams that have little to no choice in approaching every game with a must-win mentality. 

Doing those things while keeping players relatively healthy and fresh for a postseason run, creates some difficult decisions for coaches and front-offices this time of year. 

“Trying to keep guys healthy for the playoffs … we call that a good problem,” one Western Conference executive whose team is currently on the outside of the playoff picture told NBC Sports Boston. “It means you’ve played well enough to where the playoffs isn’t a concern; it’s where you end up.”

Click here for NBC Sports Boston’s latest NBA Power Rankings.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Trail Blazers, which begins Tuesday at 9 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 10 p.m. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.