At first glance, Daniel Theis doesn’t look like an NBA player. He looks like one of those international villains in James Bond movies. But one thing is clear: He’s a crucial piece for the Boston Celtics in their quest for the title.
Theis entered the league with little to no fanfare in 2017 as an undrafted player from Germany. He spent his first season as a backup, only averaging less than 15 minutes per game. But he showed glimpses of his toughness and grit, battling bigger centers underneath.
When Enes Kanter went down with an injury early this season, he was relegated to the starting center job. He never relinquished the position since. He saw his playing time jump to 24 minutes an outing, upping his averages to career-highs of 9.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks. He developed into a better-rounded player while maintaining his hardnosed and blue-collar style.
The 28-year-old has performed even better in this year’s NBA Playoffs, averaging 9.1 markers, 7.1 boards, and 1.3 rejections in 28 minutes.
He is the prototypical role player for the Celtics. He doesn’t need touches and doesn’t mind doing the intangibles. It’s perfect for a squad already teeming with offensive-minded guys in Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward. Theis is also the team’s defensive anchor inside the paint despite being undersized at 6’8.” Looking at him, it feels like he gets off on physical plays.
He was huge for the Celtics in their pulsating second round series against the Toronto Raptors, making countless key plays down the stretch on both ends. He just makes all the right plays.
Now, he’s doing the same in their Eastern Conference Finals matchup with the Miami Heat. He’s usually the last option on offense but he makes the open shots when the defense warps on his teammates. He finishes well near the rim, catching alley-oops and making put-backs. He is averaging 59.3% field goal shooting in the series. But his biggest contributions are on the defensive end: Protecting the rim, boxing out, and drawing charges. He is agile and strong enough to battle with Bam Adebayo down low and could switch to smaller and quicker guys like Jae Crowder, Jimmy Butler, and Andre Iguodala.
On Friday night’s Game 5, Theis had arguably the best game of his postseason career, tallying a double-double of 15 points and 13 rebounds, five from the offensive glass, while adding three blocks. He also helped limit Adebayo to just 13 points after the All-Star center averaged 21.5 markers in their first four meetings.
The Heat mostly plays with a small frontline, eschewing height for movement and versatility. Theis can counter that with the same set of skills. He’s still a bit unpolished but his efforts are unquestionable. He has a motor that doesn’t look like it has an off switch. Even when he got punched by Andre Iguodala in the face in the 4th quarter of Game 5, he went on with his business as if nothing happened. He also drew a key charge on Goran Dragic in the last five minutes of the game to stymie the Heat’s last-gasp hopes.
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During a timeout, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said: “In all sincerity, (this is the) first time I’ve seen Celtics basketball in the last few games.”
He could also be easily pertaining to Theis alone, who truly embodies what Celtics Pride is: Tough and selfless. It feels like he could fit well with all those old Green and White squads of the 80s.
Theis will continue to be an integral cog for the Celtics as they look to extend the series against the Heat to a Game 7 and avoid another painful postseason exit. He re-signed with the Celtics in the offseason with a two-year, $10 million contract in the offseason. Clearly, Beantown is getting their money’s worth—and a whole lot more.