Celtics

Celtics-Pelicans preview: Boston depth will be tested by New Orleans big men

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Celtics-Pelicans preview: Boston depth will be tested by New Orleans big men

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.”

He’s right.

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.”

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Tatum takes over in Celtics' biggest game of the season

Tatum takes over in Celtics' biggest game of the season

BOSTON – When you look at what has been the driving force behind the Boston Celtics’ success this season, it begins and ends with youth. 

So in the most important game of the season, it was only fitting that the Celtics found themselves being led by 20-year-old Jayson Tatum, the youngest member of the Celtics roster.

Tatum delivered a do-it-all kind of performance for Boston which now finds itself one win away from a trip to the NBA Finals after defeating Cleveland 96-83 in their Game 5 matchup on Wednesday. 

Recently named to the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team, Tatum had a team-high 24 points to go with seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocked shots. 

According to stats guru Dick Lipe, Tatum became the first rookie in 55 postseasons to register that many rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots in a playoff game. 

"Even though he was scoring the basketball, he didn't try to rush or he didn't press," said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. "He just played within the game and took his shots when they were there. He played like a veteran tonight. He didn't try to force anything and just took what the defense gave him."

And on a night when the Celtics had stretches of ineffective play at both ends of the floor, they absolutely needed Tatum to deliver a special performance such as the one we saw in Game 5. 

“I just thought he had a really good game,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “Again, these guys were anxious to play. Everybody is anxious after you get beat. But I think Jayson was especially anxious after Game 4.”

Tatum has been Boston’s leading scorer in the postseason but has struggled for stretches in this series dealing with Cleveland’s more physical brand of basketball that has made scoring a lot tougher for him.

When asked about the physicality between the regular season versus the playoffs, Tatum replied, “It’s like night and day.

He added, “Guys are going to be physical, especially with me being the young guy. That tends to happen a lot. It’s just guys trying to be stronger and bigger than me, so they’re just trying to be more physical.”

But Tatum has shown he can handle the physical play and in turn, dish it out defensively where his length allowed him to contest most of the shots taken by whoever he was defending, in addition to giving him a shot at getting into passing lanes to create turnovers or at a minimum, disrupt Cleveland’s offense. 

One of Tatum’s most outspoken supporters on the Celtics roster has been Al Horford. 

“That was encouraging to see Jayson really just taking on the challenge, really playing well on offense, playing well on defense,” Horford said. “Just very poised for most of the night. I was just very happy to see him have such a good game.”

But it didn’t come as a surprise, not with the kind of season Tatum has had for the Celtics. 

However, if Tatum seemed a bit more aggressive offensively than usual, it might have had something to do with a chat he had with Stevens. 

“I knew I was going to play a little bit more in the first quarter, just to look to be more aggressive,” Tatum said. “Coach trusts that I’m going to make the right play …”

As he should.

Because the track record of success for Tatum in this his first NBA season is undeniable. 

The youth movement that has engulfed this franchise has been led by the play of a number of young players, with Tatum’s play and potential as a star in this league being one of the primary driving forces that has done the seemingly unthinkable – positioned the Celtics to be within one victory of a trip to the NBA Finals. 

“I can’t say it enough,” Tatum said. “We’re one win away from going to the Finals, especially after everything we’ve been through.”

There was Gordon Hayward’s season-ending injury just five minutes into the season, followed by a slew of other basketball-related adversity that included not having Kyrie Irving for the entire postseason. 

But those injuries created opportunities for young players like Tatum. 

And to his credit, no one has made the most of that opportunity for an enhanced role, better than Tatum. 

But the focus now for Tatum and the Celtics is to do the seemingly unheard of – send LeBron James home for the summer. 

“It’s tough to finish out games,” Tatum said. “You’ve got to give it your all until there are zero seconds left on the clock.”

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Celtics one win away from the NBA Finals

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Celtics one win away from the NBA Finals

1:22 - Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn break down the Celtics big Game 5 win over the Cavaliers, and discuss what they think the keys are for the Celtics to get a win on the road and end the series in game 6.

6:03 - The Celtics were able to hold LeBron James to 26 points in game 5, Brian Scalabrine and Kyle Draper break down what they saw the Celtics do to slow down LeBron, and how they can build off that to finish the series.

10:06 - Gary Tanguay, Mike Giardi and Chris Gasper discuss Robert Kraft’s comments about Tom Brady’s absence at Patriots OTAs. 

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