The first round series between the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics took a major momentum swing in Milwaukee, as the Bucks protected home court to level the series at 2-2.
Thon Maker and Matthew Dellavedova were inserted into the Bucks rotation, providing the passion and energy that had been sorely missing over the first two contests.
For Boston, the shots weren't falling with the same regularity, as Maker in particular stalked the paint with his seemingly never ending 7'3" wingspan, and swat shots into the crowd left and right. One guy that has continued to be a positive factor for the Celtics however, is their own Aussie, starting center Aron Baynes.
The physically intimidating Baynes was a non-factor in the first game of the series, as both teams went small at the five. With the Celtics pinching Game 1 in an epic overtime finish, the question was a valid one as to whether Baynes would have a major role moving forward against the athletic Bucks. Before Game 2 in Boston, The Pick and Roll was able to ask Boston head coach Brad Stevens just that.
“With Milwaukee going small, [playing] Giannis at the five, we’re fortunate to have a guy like Al Horford who can slide to the five. Often that would be the case when the other team goes small, but obviously there are other times where you can leave a big in depending on what match ups you have." Stevens explained. "Baynes is a guy that’s going to start for us. We’ll continue to rely heavily on him whether that’s for 10 minutes, 20 minutes or 30 minutes."
Baynes started the game and had an immediate impact on the glass, grabbing two offensive rebounds in the first quarter. Boston cruised to a double digit victory and Baynes saw 24 minutes of playing time, up from 14 in Game 1. Reeling in six rebounds on the night, including four of the Celtics' nine offensive rebounds, Baynes continually put his body in the right spots to create problems for Milwaukee's big men.
Post-game, The Pick and Roll caught up with Baynes to ask about the expanded role from Game 1, and what he felt was a key reason for the development.
"I had a bit of a chest issue last week," Baynes revealed. "So it was just one of those things where I wanted to get through [Game 1], and get to the point where I was able to contribute what I normally can for the team."
It was an interesting bit of information that contradicted his coaches' earlier notion, that the reduced role was due to match-ups more than anything else. Despite that, Baynes' play since that night has been sensational. Boston might have lost, but it hasn't been due to a lack of contribution from the Aussie, as he has combined for 17 points and 19 rebounds over the two contests.
Baynes' ability to to get after the ball on the offensive glass is by far his biggest asset, and the Celtics have utterly destroyed the Bucks in that area, leading the offensive rebound count 54-26 through four games. That dominance has translated to the scoreboard, as they have scored an absurd 77 second-chance points to the Bucks' 24.
The Celtics have done a good job of the exploiting the often confused Milwaukee defense at the rim. Running some basic high screen action (above), they get the ball handler to attack Tyler Zeller, freeing up the screener (Baynes) to roll towards the basket for an easy tip-in.
In other instances, it's Baynes' brute strength that allows him to hold his ground and either secure the rebound or tip the ball to advantageous position, resulting in yet another scoring opportunity that have consistently burnt the Bucks.
Defensively however, he has often been caught in an unfortunate position by attempting what many NBA bigs wouldn't dare - trying to block a Giannis Antetokounmpo dunk attempt.
Game 3 bore witness to another monster poster on Baynes, and when The Pick and Roll got the chance to ask Baynes about the challenges of defending Giannis, he remained undeterred.
“It’s a five-person job to guard Giannis. He’s just so good, and he makes everything tough, especially when he gets in [the paint] so my job is to make every attempt he gets a little bit tougher. That’s all I focus on and that’s what I’ll continue to do each time.”
It's hard not to respect a guy that cares so little about about the result of such a play. Dunk on Baynes all night long, he will continue to stand in front of you and make your life difficult. It's all the little things, the intangibles that Baynes brings that solidifies his value to a Celtics team that has battled adversity with key injuries. They continue to stand tall under playoffs scrutiny, and Baynes is a big reason for that according to Stevens.
"He’s truly a guy that does not care, he just wants to win. That’s one of the things that I’ve always appreciated about him and we’ve got a locker room full of those guys, and I think his leadership is a big reason why.”
Strong words but not unsurprising, as Baynes provides a young Boston squad with invaluable experience as a former NBA champion. Baynes has been through the playoff grind numerous times, admittedly not always as a key piece, but it has allowed him to retain perspective as was illustrated through his thoughts after Game 2, when the Celtics appeared in complete control.
"We all know the series doesn't start until someone wins on the road, it’s still even. We’ve got to go in there [Milwaukee] with the right mentality, we’ve got to get better defensively, get sharper offensively. We know we’ve got to improve, because they are going to tweak some things so we’ve got to keep competing on every possession because they all count.”
Tweak some things Milwaukee did, and now it's over to Boston to make the adjustments ahead of a crucial Game 5 slated for Wednesday morning. One things for sure, Baynes will be under the rim doing the dirty work, the question is whether the Boston shooters can find the range once more.
Tip off for Game 5 between Boston and Milwaukee is Wednesday morning, 0900hrs AEST.