Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
The C’s appeared to have things in hand when Jaylen Brown shook off an 0-for-6 start and hit a reverse layup for a nine-point lead with 4:05 left. But Brown was called for a technical, which Goran Dragic hit to start a 7-0 Miami run.
Irving stemmed the tide with a floater from the lane, and, after a Heat hoop, he drove for another score. A Brown steal then ended in an Irving trey with 57 seconds left. James Johnson scored for Miami, but when Marcus Smart tracked down the rebound of an Al Horford missed trey, the hosts were forced to foul. It was all over.
“You know, winning time,” said Irving. “It’s pretty simple. Miami does a good job of shrinking the floor, so coming off the screen and roll, I just wasn’t being as decisive as I should have been. In the second half, I was just more decisive and getting to where I needed to get and just knocking down shots, just being more aggressive and understanding where my shots were going to come from.”
That was wherever he wanted them to come from.
“That’s what he is,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “He’s a great closer in this game. His handle allows him to get wherever he needs to go, and his range makes you have to extend your defense quite a bit. So those plays at the end, the finish, how many guys can make that finish?”
Stevens is happy he has one of them.
“We need Kyrie to be aggressive shooting it, and we want Kyrie to be aggressive shooting it,” he said. “He’s a special scorer, and when that game was on the line and they cut it to two, making that floater, making the layup and then the 3, those were big-time plays.”
In six games as a Celtic, Kyrie Irving is averaging 21.3 points on 41.6 percent shooting to go with 5.7 assists, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.3 steals. He had his finest game on Saturday, displaying a dazzling array of offensive moves and helping Boston close out a 96-90 victory in Miami.
When we acquired Kyrie, fans expected a younger, bigger, more dynamic version of Isaiah Thomas. Like his predecessor, Kyrie fashions himself as a scorer more than a facilitator. Over the years — an especially during last season’s conference finals — Boston had fallen vicim to Kyrie’s scoring outbursts.
Saturday’s win was our first time watching Kyrie takeover a game offensively. He looked like the clear best player on the floor and Miami had no answers.
It seems like Kyrie’s still feeling out his role with Boston. He’s played like more of a facilitator than any other time in his career, and as a result, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have received much of the early season attention. Kyrie had an expectation of his role during training camp, but that changed immediately after Gordon Hayward’s injury.
Kyrie wanted to leave the Cavs largely because he wanted more playmaking responsibilty. He’s made strides in trying to get teammates involved, but in situations like Saturday night, when the team needs buckets at will, Kyrie will always have his “uncle drew” persona to fall back on.
Page 2: Where Baynes is Behind the Team’s Defensive Turnaround
The Celtics have also found out their defense is considerably better with Aron Baynes on the floor. The Australian big man has been splendid patrolling the paint and has a 97 defensive rating in his six games (opponents points scored per 100 possessions while he is on the floor), which is a career best.
What’s more, the burly 6-foot-10-inch center has six blocked shots in six games compared with 39 in his 75 games last season. The Celtics have long sought a rim protector, a player who could intimidate opponents and keep them from attacking the rim. Baynes may not have the frame of a traditional rim protector, but he is making it difficult for teams to score in the key.
“Baynes was one of the best in the NBA last year at defending the rim, without blocking a ton of shots,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “But the whole verticality deal, he’s very good at. And he works really hard at it, and he’s a big body when you run into him. He’s made a huge difference in our defense, no question about it.”
It’s a small sample size, but the Celtics went into Sunday’s games fourth in the NBA in points allowed, 11th in opponents’ field goal percentage, and second in opponents’ 3-point field goal percentage. Baynes blocked four shots Saturday in Miami, and the Celtics were a plus-7 with him on the floor, the highest of any Boston starter.
Baynes is a plus-29 in the Celtics’ past three games and understands he was brought here to fill a particular role. He is the Celtic most likely to get dunked on because of his aggressiveness at the rim. He is also the Celtic most likely to crash to the floor, such as on Thursday, when Bucks 6-11 standout Giannis Antetokounmpo tried dunking Baynes, as well as the ball, into the hoop in the first half.
It didn’t take long for Aron Baynes to endear himself to the coaching staff. His rebounding, mid-range shooting, interior defense, and overall physicality has given the Celtics a dimension they were lacking all of last season.
Although the individual stats aren’t eye-popping, Baynes is thriving in his role. The Celtics currently rank second in defensive efficiency, and Baynes is leading the charge. The defense allows only 96.6 points per 100 posessions while Baynes plays, the best mark on the team.
The 31-year-old has given the team everything they’ve needed out of a backup center. While six games is not a large sample size, it’s notable to point out he’s averaging career highs in minutes (19.8), points (6.8), rebounds (5.2), and field goal percentage (60%).
The Celtics are lucky to have Baynes on the roster. He turned down a $6.4 million player option in Detroit to sign a 1-year/$4.3 million deal with Boston. He knew the Celtics were short on bigs and he’d never get the same playing time with the Pistons. It’s the first time the Celtics have had a physical, defensive-oriented center since the days of Kendrick Perkins.
The Celtics host the Spurs tonight at the TD Garden. Both teams are 4-2, but San Antonio dropped its last two games to Orlando and Indiana after starting undefeated. Boston did the opposite — losing its first two games but winning the next four.
Brad Stevens has never beaten San Antonio. The Celtics last defeated the Spurs in March of 2011, when Nenad Kristic was our starting center and Kyrie Irving was still a freshman at Duke. Since then, the Spurs have won nine straight against the Celtics.
It’s an ideal opportunity to steal a win. The Spurs lost to Indiana last night and travel to Boston on the second night of a back-to-back. Kawhi Leonard is still injured. They’re relying on older players like Manu Ginobili, Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay, and LaMarcus Aldrige. We might even see Gregg Poppovich rest some guys.
San Antonio is the only team Stevens hasn’t beaten. Poppovich is one of his mentors — they’ll have they’re ususal extended conversation after the game. It’s not even November, but wins against the Spurs never come easy, and Brad defnitely has these games circled on his schedule.
The Rest of the Links:
Sports Illustrated: Celtics Press Fast Forward on Youth Movement