In 376 career regular season games, Celtics center Aron Baynes has taken 28 three-pointers and made only four — a 14.7 percent shooting rate not uncommon for a paint-anchored big man. This postseason, however, he’s made 10 threes in 14 games to give Boston yet another useful outlet on the perimeter.
That’s just the kind of playoffs the Celtics are having.
Baynes’ newfound shooting skill was on display Tuesday night against the Cavaliers in a nine-point, six rebound performance. While he was able to provide the rim-protecting muscle on which the club relies, he was also able to prove his worth from long range, daring Cleveland to chase him out to 24 feet.
Case in point: the Celtics earned their first lead In nearly 30 minutes of game time following third-quarter baskets from Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier. Baynes extended that advantage — and fired up an already-loud Boston crowd — by popping to the three-point line to set a pick for Smart, holding his place along the arc after Smart’s drive failed to advance, and calmly draining a long-range shot when Kevin Love failed to close out on him.
It hasn’t happened often — just 1.4 times per game in these playoffs — but that shooting has given the Celtics a little extra kick. It’s also been emblematic of the postseason changes Brad Stevens has instilled to help sew chaos for opposing defenses. The NBA Coach of the Year candidate has relied on several different looks to balance the scoring load throughout a talented roster — and that includes giving a player who made less than 15 percent of his threes over the course of a six-year career the green light from long range.
It’s paid off. Baynes’ newfound proficiency leaves opponents no quarter when it comes to having to defend all the way out to the top of the key. Like his teammate Al Horford, the Kiwi’s shooting from the center position forces other big men out of the paint, effectively unclogging the lane for dribble-drive experts like Rozier, Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum. Opponents can choose to either follow the 6’10 center from the basket when he pops to the perimeter or remain in the paint to provide help defense against the Celtics’ wings off the drive.
When they choose the latter, Baynes has made them pay — to the tune of an uber-efficient 50 percent three-point stroke on a series of mostly-open shots. While he may not be as prolific as the rest of a roster where five players are attempting at least 3.7 threes per game, Baynes’ ability to keep defenses honest from long range has been an important, if overlooked, asset for the Celtics this spring. And turning a paint-bound big man into a momentum-shifting three-point shooter? That’s another chapter in the tome Stevens is writing in Boston this postseason.