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BOSTON – With Al Horford in concussion protocol, Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris faced a little extra pressure Wednesday night when the Boston Celtics hosted the Los Angeles Lakers at TD Garden.
The starting frontcourt tandem needed to somehow find a way to fill Horford’s invaluable void on both ends of the court. And boy, did they both deliver above and beyond expectations.
Baynes produced one of the top performances of his life, as he tied a career high with 21 points to go along with eight rebounds in just 22 minutes of action.
Morris, meanwhile, poured in a season-best 18 points, while knocking down three 3-pointers.
Their combined effort was the difference, as they helped lead the Celtics over the Lakers, 107-96, for their tenth consecutive win.
“They did a great job of filling in for Al tonight, understanding what we need,” said point guard Kyrie Irving, who added 19 points, six rebounds and five assists of his own. “It’s a difficult task to understand what Al means for us offensively and defensively, but those guys came in and made their mark.”
Baynes is used to making his mark on the defensive end as a body-banging rim protector. On this occasion, however, his service was needed on the offensive end as well, and he rose to the occasion by connecting on eight of his 12 field goal attempts.
Coach Brad Stevens noted after the game how impressed he was with Baynes’ ability to battle against L.A.’s small-ball lineup.
“He did a good job rolling all night, and sealing, and finishing in and around the paint,” said Stevens. “He had a couple of put-backs. He did a good job.”
While many were surprised with Baynes’ offensive contributions, his starting frontcourt mate was not. Morris played alongside Baynes for two seasons in Detroit, and he knows that the Australian big man is capable of packing an offensive punch if that’s what is needed out of him.
“Aron Baynes played a hell of a game,” said Morris. “He stepped in and showed his value, and he’s been doing it for a while around this league.”
Morris showcased his value against the Lakers as well. The veteran forward hasn’t had much of a chance to shine this season, because he’s missed nine of 12 games due to knee soreness. He was still facing a 25-minute max restriction Wednesday night, but he played a critical role in posting up against L.A.’s small-ball lineup as it attempted to come back from a 21-point deficit.
“He played more today than he had played in either of the previous two games, and he’s trying to work his way up there,” said Stevens. “But it was hard to take him out because he really impacted the game … Tonight I thought he bailed us out. When they cut it to two, he made the turnaround (jumper), and then he came right back and hit (Marcus) Smart for a 3 out of the post – bang-bang, five-point run – that kind of separated the game again.”
It was a challenge holding off the Lakers’ comeback attempt, not only because of Horford’s absence, but because of Jayson Tatum’s absence as well. The rookie starter was limited to just nine minutes of action after injuring his right ankle in an undetermined fashion.
Fortunately for the Celtics, Baynes, Morris and the rest of the squad were able to step up and adjust on the fly in order to pull out the win.
“That’s what this league is about; it’s always gotta be next man up,” said Morris. “Everybody in this locker room is a pro, so when your number gets called, you have to be ready.”
The Celtics will have to maintain that mindset moving forward, especially since they do not yet know the severity of Horford and Tatum’s respective injuries. Horford will continue to go through concussion protocol this week, and Tatum, who left the arena Wednesday night in a walking boot, will have an MRI Thursday.
Ideally, the Celtics hope that both starters will be healthy enough to suit up for Friday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets. But if either or both are unable to give it a go, Baynes, Morris and the others will be ready to step up once again.