The return of a healthy Aron Baynes to the lineup was expected to be a critical development for the Celtics success. A defensive backbone during his two years in Boston, Baynes covers up for mistakes, contests the rim well and does the dirty work to help his teammates. Last season, Baynes and Al Horford teamed up in the frontcourt to form the best defensive starting five in the league for most of the season.
It was evident in year two that Brad Stevens would drift away from that two traditional big starting lineup and lean more on small ball, but that has produced inconsistent defense for Boston during much of the last two months. With Baynes back healthy last Sunday against the Rockets, Stevens turned to the Baynes/Horford combo, which helped jumpstart a Celtics comeback in the third quarter that ultimately fell short.
Ahead of the team’s first game out west in Golden State, Stevens voiced how eager he was to see the duo play together again.
“We’ve wanted to see it all year,” Stevens explained. “Baynes has missed a ton of games in the last couple of months. There’s matchups that that’s really good for, and matchups that it’s not. So inevitably it’s going to play together some. Houston on paper would not necessarily be that, just because of the way they spread you out and everything else, but we have an opportunity to play them together the other day, and we’ll try to take more advantage of that once Baynes gets off these limited minutes.”
Yet, despite this talk, Baynes and Horford played together for a grand total of zero minutes on the trip. This clearly wasn’t an obstacle to the team’s success out west (3-1 trip was very solid) but the team’s defense showed plenty of cracks over the final three games despite the success.
It took until the Kings went with traditional frontcourt off the bench (Marvin Bagley, Harry Giles) and size at all five positions for Stevens to budge and dust off his best lineup pairing of the year in Baynes/Horford among duos that have played 50 minutes together. Incredibly, Baynes and Horford had played just 55 minutes collectively all season long in 13 games entering Thursday night, yet they have the best net rating (+33.7) on the team.