Finally healthy, Celtics center Aron Baynes is certainly enjoying himself.
“I feel like a kid every time I step out on the court,’’ Baynes said after Boston’s 114-112 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Friday night. “I’m just excited to be out there.’’
The 6-foot-10-inch center had all the more reason to smile when he notched his first double-double of the season with 13 points and 13 rebounds at TD Garden.
In his third start in as many games, Baynes made an impact immediately by tallying a team-high 7 points in the first quarter. His presence permeated both ends of the floor, as he drew a charge, blocked a shot, knocked down a 3-pointer, and grabbed two offensive boards all in the first nine minutes.
“It was great,’’ forward Al Horford said of his teammate’s performance. “It was really great. He was obviously engaged on the defensive end. It makes a big difference for us. And then when his name was called on offense, he kept making plays and getting big offensive rebounds. It was great to see him play with that focus.’’
Baynes logged a season-high 33 minutes Friday, an encouraging sign for the Celtics. After missing two month-long stints because of separate injuries, the 32-year-old credits the team’s medical staff with helping him recover successfully — and quickly.
The Celtics suffered another scare when Baynes landed awkwardly on his left foot against the Philadelphia 76ers last week. But despite being diagnosed with a Grade 2 ankle sprain, he was ruled day-to-day instead of week-to-week. Baynes sat out just one game before returning to the rotation, allowing the team to breathe a collective sigh of relief.
“It’s definitely fun to be healthy,’’ Baynes said. “Everybody loves to be out on the court. I’m no different. I love being out there. I’m thankful to be out there every time. The guys that I’m playing with, they make it so much easier for me. It’s definitely enjoyable to be out there, so I’m just trying to make the most of it.’’
With Baynes available, coach Brad Stevens was finally able to experiment with using two bigs in the starting lineup — a modification that he’s indicated on multiple occasions is of interest to him. Stevens has elected to start both Baynes and Horford in Boston’s most recent three games, and the commitment seems to be paying off.
Against the Pacers, for example, the pairing allowed the Celtics to more adequately defend Indiana’s trio of versatile big men — Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, and Thaddeus Young — as well as match up with their physicality.
“I know defensively if I make mistakes, [Baynes will] cover my back out there, so I can be a little bit more aggressive at times on the defensive end,’’ Horford said. “On offense, we just try to make the game easier for one another, whether it’s setting screens or finding the other one.’’
“We need rim protection,’’ added Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving, who called the decision to start both Baynes and Horford “a great game plan.’’ “We’ve been relatively small, not in height but, in terms of our physical presence out there when we have some of our wings guarding bigs.’’
Irving also expressed his approval for Baynes’s contributions on the offensive end, highlighting his ability to set screens.
“I rely on him a lot when he’s out there playing,’’ Irving said. “I know I have a great chance of getting open because he does a great job setting them.’’
Baynes said he’s doing a little bit less on his days off so that he can be used as much as needed on game days. With a first-round playoff matchup against the Pacers the most likely outcome as of now, there’s a good chance he will continue to start alongside Horford.
“We just haven’t had [Baynes] and Al healthy for very much of the year, so it’s been hard to play them together,’’ Stevens said. “It’s nice to have them back, it’s nice to have them available, and we need to have that as an option moving forward.’’