Centers Save the Day, as Theis, Kanter Serve as Unsung Heroes

BOSTON – Let’s talk about unsung heroes for the Boston Celtics – the ones who helped them save their season Friday night.

Let’s talk about Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter.

Together, those two centers outperformed Miami’s All-Star at the same position, Bam Adebayo, to fuel Boston’s 121-108 victory over the Heat in Game 5. They combined to total 23 points, 17 rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots, compared to Adebayo’s 13 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and one blocked shot.

Stunning numbers? No. Significant numbers? No question.

“We got a lot out of that center position tonight,” said Brad Stevens. “That's important.”

So important that Boston’s bigs seemed to disrupt Miami’s groove at both ends of the court throughout the court of the game, a trend which Kanter initiated.

Kanter’s presence during the first half was a surprise to many, as he did not play at all during Games 1 and 4 and totaled just 16 minutes during Games 2 and 3. Stevens, however, felt he needed to shock the game, and he did so by calling Kanter’s number with 9:48 left in the first half as Boston trailed by 10.

Kanter checked in and scored his first bucket 16 seconds later. Then scored his second basket 22 seconds after that. By the time halftime arrived, Kanter had racked up eight points, four rebounds and two assists during nine-plus minutes of action, helping to keep the Celtics within striking distance of Miami at 58-51 at the break.

“Just kind of kept us at bay,” Stevens said of what Kanter provided to the team. “We were struggling. They hit some really tough shots. (Duncan) Robinson was going nuts. Kanter's points there in the paint I thought really helped. That kind of helped steady us, give us a chance at halftime, only being down seven.”

His performance drew praise from Jayson Tatum as well. Tatum acknowledged Kanter’s ability to deliver despite his ever-changing role on the team.

“He's in a unique situation where he never knows when he’s going to play, but he's always ready to give us that boost, that spark at both ends, especially rebounding it and getting the ball in the low post,” said Tatum, who scored a game-high 31 points. “That just shows how good he is. He's a professional. He's always ready.”

Kanter was ready and gave Boston a chance. Theis took that chance and ran with it during the second half.

As good as Kanter was during his first stint, Theis was even better during the second half. His presence was felt at both ends of the court as he racked up a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds over the final two quarters alone, of which he played all but 39 seconds.

“He was great in the middle of the zone,” Stevens said of Theis. “He caught it twice and scored. He was great there on the glass on both ends.”

The significance of those plays cannot be overstated. While some might think that the Celtics go as Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker go, Brown used Friday night as an example while he begged to differ.

“Anytime Theis is great, it's great for our team,” Brown, who scored 28 points of his own, said. “He probably doesn't get the credit he deserves.”

Well, he and Kanter deserve loads of credit following Game 5, and they’re getting it right here.

Those two players were, as Tatum called them, were “big-time” Friday night as they played “with a lot of effort and heart.”

They are the unsung heroes who helped Boston stave off elimination and live another day inside the NBA bubble.

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