BOSTON -- If there’s one thing that Aron Baynes seems to always have plenty to supply every night, it’s humor.
Returning to action after missing the previous 13 games with a left metacarpal fracture, Baynes was asked how the hand felt following Boston’s win over Toronto.
He quickly glanced at the surgically repaired hand and said, “I feel great. I’m not boxing out there so it’s all good.”
With Baynes back in the lineup, it certainly feels that way for the Celtics who were at full strength - a rarity this season - and played like it in defeating the Raptors, 117-108..
There were several players who delivered big-time performances, like Kyrie Irving’s double-double of 27 points and a career-high 18 assists. Gordon Hayward (18 points), Jayson Tatum (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Al Horford (season-high 24 points) all played well.
But it was Baynes’ return that Boston desperately needed to knock off a Toronto team that has been at the top of the Eastern Conference mountaintop for most of this season.
Baynes scored nine points on 4-for-5 shooting, along with grabbing five rebounds and dishing out two assists in just over 14 minutes played.
“It was good to be out there,” said Baynes, the unofficial team pest in pleading almost daily with the coaching and medical staffs to get back on the floor. “Sick of riding on a bike and running up and down an empty court. Actually being able to contribute and do something for the fellas was fun.”
And while he’s often praised for what he brings to the floor defensively, Baynes making himself a viable scoring option was among the keys to Boston knocking off the Raptors (33-13) to lead the head-to-head series two games to one and assure that at worst Boston will split with the Raptors this season.
His first basket of the game came on a dunk, with Marcus Smart on the assist.
It was fitting that he would dunk the ball for his first points because early on during his rehab for the broken hand, he wasn’t supposed to dunk the basketball.
During the period in which he was supposed to do light shooting only, “I went out there and dunked it a couple times,” he said. “It didn’t hurt then, so I figured it's all good from now on. It doesn’t hurt.”
Seeing him out there was a good thing for the Celtics … and some of the team’s tools used more when players are coming back from an injury.
“Well Baynes has been doing non-contact workouts for two weeks now,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “And shooting the ball, running, you know, wearing out all our machines in the facility. So, like he’s … you knew he was going to be in great shape, that wasn’t going to be an issue.”
Not only did Baynes give Boston its first lead of the game (41-40), but it was a 3-pointer from the Celtics center to tie the game at 92-all in the fourth quarter that came right on time as it snapped a 9-0 run by the Raptors.
“The three he hit was huge,” Stevens said. “I mean, that was a big momentum, because it was going the other way at that time and he just stepped up and knocked it in.”
But Baynes knows in the end, his greatest contributions to the Celtics will still come from what he does defensively.
And Wednesday’s win was yet another strong game for Baynes whose defensive rating a year ago (96.6) was tops in the NBA.
Well he appears to be on the verge of going back-to-back with that, this season.
Among players who have appeared in as many games as Baynes (26) and average at least 14 minutes played like Baynes, his defensive rating of 96.0 is tops in the NBA.
And against the Raptors, Baynes had a game-best defensive rating of 62.1.
If there was an upside to his injury, it afforded him an opportunity to look at the game from a vantage point that’s only going to help him and the Celtics going forward.
“One of the benefits of being out, I got to see what I can contribute,” said Baynes who pointed out being vocal defensively at top of his get-back-to-doing list. “And on offense get these guys moving a bit; set screens … these guys can create a lot when you set a good screen and give them half a step. That’s what I’m trying to do. Hopefully I can keep contributing in the best way.”
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