BOSTON — It was a few minutes past midnight on July 1 and all eyes across the NBA were focused on some of the biggest names in the game.

LeBron James talking to the Los Angeles Lakers, Paul George staying with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kevin Durant back with the Golden State Warriors, Chris Paul signs extension with the Houston Rockets.

Even in Celtics circles, most sights were set on restricted free agent Marcus Smart – a negotiation that took three weeks to be resolved in a four-year reunion.

But if you scrolled far down in the daily roundup, or watched to the end of the crawl on the bottom of the TV screen, you got to a note that could become one of the more underrated moves any team made all offseason.

Aron Baynes re-signs with the Celtics for one year, plus a player option for a second year.

“Staying where I wanted to be,” Baynes declared on Twitter 20 minutes past midnight. “Last year added fuel to the fire. Bleed green. Banner 18.”

While Baynes averaged a modest 6.0 points and 5.4 rebounds in his first year in Boston, Coach Brad Stevens lauded his defensive impact and value as a teammate at every opportunity throughout the season. When Baynes transformed into a sudden 3-point threat in the conference semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers, combined with his efforts to frustrate Joel Embiid in the paint, the 76ers wilted in a 4-1 series loss.

Baynes was right back at it in Tuesday night’s opener – a massive presence in the paint while scoring eight points with three rebounds, three assists and two more 3-pointers in 19 minutes of a 105-87 triumph.

“It shows when we lock in at the defensive end we can be tough,” said Baynes, a 31-year-old, seven-year veteran. “We had some lapses there where we weren’t playing great defense. We were giving them too many looks in transition. When we were able to take away their transition points we made it tough on them.

“That’s where we’ve got to focus as a team. When we build from our defense, that’s where we were successful last year, and that’s our ticket again.”

That appeared to be the Stevens’ intent when he went to Baynes in place of Gordon Hayward – who is on a minutes restriction coming off last year’s dislocated ankle and fractured leg – to start the second half Tuesday night. Baynes responded with a 3-pointer, blocked shot and charge taken as the Celtics stretched a five-point halftime lead to 61-47 after four minutes.

“I thought we competed,” Stevens said. “I thought that, again, our depth was a big factor. Whenever things started to go awry and we put in fresh, new faces, they all made plays.

“And that’s what it’s got to be for us. We’re a long way from being really good. But if we play hard then we have a chance to get there.”

Early in the fourth quarter came a sequence that would challenge any perception of what’s always up and what’s down in the game. Kyrie Irving had a lane to the basket and instead kicked out to Baynes for a corner 3-pointer he drained for an 85-70 lead with 9:45 left.

“It’s definitely one of those things where it’s fun to be out there and do it,” said Baynes, who has nine made 3-pointers in his last six games against the 76ers after entering last season with only one make in his entire career.

“(Irving) creates so much space for everyone offensively. He gets you a great shot. It’s just about to go out there and do the right thing. We have confidence in everyone who is putting up the shot that it’s the best shot for the team. That’s what makes it fun to play.”

It took Baynes 90 seconds to return the favor, slipping a pass out of the high post to a cutting Irving to cap a 17-5 run that put the Celtics up 17 with 9:01 remaining.

THURSDAY’S GAMES

76ERS 127, BULLS 108: Ben Simmons had a triple-double with 13 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists, and Joel Embiid had 30 points and 12 rebounds to lead Philadelphia at home.

Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 30 points in their season opener.

HEAT 113, WIZARDS 112: Kelly Olynyk’s putback of Dwyane Wade’s missed jumper produced the go-ahead basket with 0.2 seconds left, lifting Miami past host Washington.

Josh Richardson led Miami with 28 points, Rodney McGruder added 20, and the Heat hit consecutive 3s late in the fourth quarter.

With Washington center Dwight Howard sidelined by a sore backside, the Wizards were led by old standby John Wall, who delivered 26 points and nine assists. He and fellow All-Star guard Bradley Beal, who scored 20 points, accounted for Washington’s last eight points.

But with a 112-111 lead, Wall missed a 26-foot pull-up jumper, giving Miami a chance. Wade’s shot with about 3 seconds left was off the mark, and Olynyk grabbed the rebound and his layup won it.


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