For Aron Baynes and the Boston Celtics, the formula has been pretty simple through the 2018 NBA playoffs thus far. Play at home, win at home. Heading into Wednesday morning's Eastern Conference Finals Game 2, the Celtics were 8-0 at the TD Garden and 1-4 on the road. Just two days after crushing the Cleveland Cavaliers to the tune of 25 points, they were once again at home in front of an enthusiastic crowd to face LeBron James on the rebound.
Heading into the contest, James had not faced an 0-2 deficit in an Eastern Conference playoff series since 2008, when coincidentally, his Cavaliers lost to the eventual champion Boston Celtics. For that reason, Boston fans remained on edge with the inevitable LeBron James bounce back game on the cards. Baynes once again came off the bench for Boston, as Brad Stevens opted to again charge Marcus Morris with the task of slowing Cleveland's number 23 down.
By the time Baynes entered the game with 6:46 remaining in the first quarter, LeBron already had eight points but he was just getting started. He scored 13 of Cleveland's last 15 points to go in with 21 at the first break, but tellingly, his side only lead by four points.
For Cleveland, it was a demoralising scoreline, after what was another astonishing moment in year 15 of James' career. The play below signifies just how en fuego James was in the first period, as Marcus Smart defended him as well as you could possibly imagine, forcing the ball out of his hands, before bodying him out to the three point line with the shot clock about to expire. Despite the excellent defense, James simply launched a turn around three that hit nothing but net.
For Boston, it was about understanding that they had taken an almighty blow, and remained right with the Cavs. Baynes played the final 6:46 of the quarter and finished with four points and two rebounds, once again showing the ability to positively and efficiently impact the game in the minutes he was on the floor.
There are certainly a lot of ways you could describe Baynes as a player. Physical, strong, selfless, committed, just to name a few, but there may not be a better visual explanation than a play that occurred in the first thirty seconds of the second quarter.
After his lay-up was blocked at the rim by Jeff Green, a loose ball ensued and Cleveland center Larry Nance Jr got his hands firmly on the ball in an attempt to secure the rebound. Never one to shy away from physical contact, Baynes attempted to wrestle the ball free, sending both players flying to the floor with the ball still equally gripped. It was playoff basketball at it's best, and it's the exact reason why Baynes has become not only a cult hero with the Boston faithful, but has become head coach Brad Stevens' favourites too.
Despite Cleveland's early lead, a 6-0 run for Boston to end the half left the game well and truly in the balance and in fact, you had the feeling the momentum had swung in favour of the home side.
As is so often the case in basketball, the third quarter proved to be the pivotal one. The relentless pressure and intensity of the Celtics continued to wear on the Cavs, as Boston were just kicking into gear. The TD Garden crowd was once again in rapture, as Boston outscored Cleveland 36-22 for the period. With scores tied at 74 with just under four minutes remaining in the quarter, you felt the remaining time left could make or break the contest.
And to the surprise of no one, it was once again Baynes who put himself in the right position to influence the contest. First, he faked a screen up top for Smart, only to quickly roll to the basket. Kevin Love was forced to defend the penetration, Cleveland missed a defensive rotation, and Baynes was able to finish a perfect lob to give Boston the lead.
After fruitless possessions for either side, it was once again the Baynes and Smart connection that sparked the Celtics. In what has become a regular theme for the Cavs over the course of the season, confusion once again reigned over their defensive rotations as both James and Love were drawn to the ball handler Smart, who threatened penetration off a Baynes screen. With his new found confidence from beyond the arc in toe, Baynes was left wide open and without hesitation knocked down the triple. It was his tenth of the playoffs and it gave Boston their biggest lead of the night.
The personal 5-0 run for Baynes pushed Boston over the hump and they never looked back. They wound up comfortable 107-94 winners and on the surface, look destined for an improbable Finals berth. The Cavs have been broken by the grit and grind of the Celtics and now find themselves in an 0-2 hole.
For the third straight series, Boston has taken care of the first two games and now climb to 9-0 at home in the playoffs. On the night, Baynes finished with nine points and six rebounds in an extremely important 17 minutes of court time. His determination and willingness to compete matching his fearless squad that continue to defy the odds.
The Celtics breakout point guard Terry Rozier spoke about the determination of the group post-game.
"We're going to fight. At this point we don't care if we win by half a point. If we win, that's all that matters," Rozier said.
He's not wrong. Prior to tipoff, the question was if the Celtics would be able to withstand the inevitable incoming LeBron onslaught. James recorded a 42-point triple double and Boston still triumphed by double digits. The body language of the Cavaliers was bleak, they give the appearance of a broken squad and if they can't protect home court, they will be. Boston are an insane 37-0 all-time when holding a 2-0 advantage in the playoffs. With all this in mind, every indication would suggest that Aron Baynes may be heading back to the second NBA Finals series of his career.
But before this can ring true, Boston must find a way to do something they haven't been able to consistently achieve thus far: take their stellar home form on the road.
Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals series between Boston and Cleveland is scheduled for 10:30am Sunday morning AEST, 20 May 2018.