Theis Continues To Excel as 'Perfect' Complement to C's Starters

MINNEAPOLIS – Four of Boston’s five starters are household names. The fifth continues to fly under the radar while continuing to produce.

Daniel Theis, the least-heralded starter on the Celtics, added another strong performance to his impressive season Friday night when he piled up new career highs of 25 points and 16 rebounds during a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

These nights are rare for Theis, who averages just 8.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game this season, but they lead to the center receiving the credit he has deserved all along for being a critical piece to Boston’s success.

Without him, the Celtics are not who they’ve become, which is true title contenders.

Theis is undoubtedly one of the most important pieces on this team, despite his average numbers. He contributes in ways that don’t always show up in the box score, which is exactly what his role on this team calls for.

Brad Stevens has asked Theis to be a defensive anchor who doubles as a super-glue guy surrounding four star players in Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward. Theis has excelled in that role, as Stevens alluded to Friday night by saying, “I think the way that he plays just fits the other guys perfect.”

And it’s not only Stevens who feels this way. The rest of the starters do too, because they know that Theis is reliable, he is consistent, and he doesn’t care about any statistic other than the win column.

“He’s really unselfish … I mean, that’s who he is,” said Gordon Hayward, who teamed with Theis many times Friday night in the pick-and-roll game. “He wants to win and he makes all of us better, and that’s something that doesn’t always show up in the stat sheet and you have to really watch the game to understand the kind of impact he’s able to have on games.”

Theis has completely bought into his role, which most commonly leads to him flying under the radar. But there are nights like Friday, when the game opens up for him and he’s able to log gaudy numbers.

Boston ran a heavy dose of pick-and-roll against a Timberwolves team that opted to play a lot of small ball Friday night. Theis took advantage by finding the seams in Minnesota’s defense, which led to him making eight buckets from inside the restricted area.

“You know, he got a great feel for the game, so he really knows kind of where to be at different points in time, whether that’s rolling to rim, half-rolling, popping out,” Hayward described. “He’s a really good basketball player, and that’s just on that end.”

Theis is also a great defender who provides the Celtics with versatility. He can guard any position, which is an ability the Celtics took advantage of Friday night against a skilled Timberwolves team.

“His defense is just really, really good,” said Stevens. “You saw we had him at the top of the key quite a bit there on different alignments. He can guard guards and he can protect the rim.”

With all of this praise coming Theis’ way, it would have been easy for it to go straight to his head. Instead, the big man chose to joke about his big scoring night.

“We have guys that can score 20 every night with Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward,” he said, “and today I was even in the mix.”

After a quick laugh, Theis got right back to being the guy everyone in Boston has come to know: the unselfish one who spends little time worrying about his stats, and most of his time buying into his role on this team.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “everyone knows I don’t care about the scoring. I care about the defensive parts.”

That unselfish mindset is why Theis has flown under the national radar all season long. Every once in a while, though, a night like Friday will happen, when Theis puts forth a performance that’s impossible to ignore.

This night is all about giving Theis the credit he has deserves all season long. In the words of his coach, he has been the perfect complement to Boston’s star-studded starting lineup.

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