Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers

Game 1 shows Aron Baynes' impact on Celtics-76ers series shouldn't be overlooked

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76ers center Joel Embiid defended by Celtics center Aron Baynes (Getty Images)

BOSTON - In looking at how, against a flood of odds, the Celtics were able to pull off a most improbable 117-101 win over the Sixers on Monday night to open their conference semifinal series, you're going to come up with some obvious numbers.

The 28 points from Jayson Tatum, a career high from the guy the Sixers passed on as the No. 1 pick last spring, instead choosing to go with Markelle Fultz, who was notable for his zero-points-in-zero-minutes absence.

The seven made 3-pointers from point guard Terry Rozier, which was not a career high, but was second in his time in the NBA and boosted him to a 29-point performance, the third-best of his career. That was part of a 48.6-percent (17-for-35) effort from the 3-point line from the Celtics, a good deal better than the 19.2 percent the Sixers put up from the arc (5-for-26).

How about the efficiency of the Celtics in the paint, where they sank 20 of 33 shots? How about the mere 10 turnovers? How about the Sixers' bench, one of the most prolific in the postseason with an average of 35.6 points in the first round, grounded with just 17 points in Game 1?

So many things went wrong for the Sixers. So many went right for the Celtics.

But the aspect of this game that is certain to be overlooked is just what Celtics center Aron Baynes did in his 29 minutes and 17 seconds on the floor, the second-most minutes he's played this postseason, and the third-most he has played all year.

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Sure Not Now

For the opener, at least, Baynes blew up one of the most prominent storylines entering this series. The expectation was that Celtics defensive ace Al Horford would spend much of his defensive time guarding Sixers big man Joel Embiid - something Horford has done well during the regular season - but Boston coach Brad Stevens opted for more Baynes on Embiid. That allowed Horford to focus on locking up 6-10 guard Ben Simmons.

To close the Milwaukee series in the first round, the Celtics had been starting a small lineup that included Semi Ojeleye instead of Baynes, who played only 34 minutes in the final three games against the Bucks. But Stevens saw no issues there.

"We got together with the team on Sunday," Stevens said, "and I said, 'We're playing big. We're starting (Aron) Baynes' in front of the team, and I never even thought twice about talking to Semi individually because he's not wired like that. He just wants to help the team win. He's got a special character to him; same thing with Baynes. And that's why you can flip those guys back and forth."

It worked. Simmons had 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting and had more turnovers (seven) than assists (six). Embiid had a big night - 31 points, 13 rebounds, five assists - but the rest of the team stunk, and five of his 12 field goals came from beyond the paint. Philly shot 37 percent from the field, receiving a notable lesson on the dangers of taking the Celtics lightly. Boston can live with a big night of Embiid shooting jumpers if it means a win.

Especially if Baynes can continue to build on his contribution in Game 1. Not only did he make things difficult for Embiid, but he allowed Horford to create trouble for Simmons, which appeared to stall the Sixers offense.

And it helps that Baynes, 3-for-21 this season as a 3-point shooter, sank two of three attempts in this game. Embiid laid well off Baynes on the defensive end, and if Baynes can at least force him to respect his jumper, the Sixers' interior defense should get softer for the Celtics.

Much can change, of course. Stevens can reduce Baynes' playing time at any point, and go back to smaller lineups. Baynes could miss every 3-pointer he attempts for the rest of the series, and find his path back to the bench that way.

But for a series debut, at least, Baynes was an eye-opener, an Embiid-container who did just enough to close the offensive gap between he and his more celebrated rival. Embiid, after all, went to the free-throw line only six times in this game. A Celtics win in this series still feels like a longshot, but keeping Baynes within himself and effective defensively on Embiid looks like it will be a big part of the game plan.

Baynes is so often shifted in and out of the starting five (mostly out) based on Stevens' whims. But his play in Game 1 makes him look far more important than was anticipated ahead of these playoffs, especially if Boston continues to play Horford on Simmons. Philadelphia has an opportunity for improvement there.

The same can be said of Embiid's Sixers as a whole, a team that needs to do a better job working the offense from the inside out. As it stands, if the Sixers do not adjust, they could get steamrolled in spectacular fashion despite their obvious talent advantage.

And as he showed on Monday, Baynes could play a big part in closing that advantage.

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