C’s Tag-Team Center Combo Puts Up Strong Fight vs. Embiid

BOSTON – Boston’s tag-team center combination of Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis took turns stepping into the ring Thursday night to grapple with one of their most daunting assignments of the season. Facing them in the opposite corner of TD Garden was one of the NBA’s most dominant heavyweights in Joel Embiid, who was as hungry as always to take on the rival Celtics.

The Philadelphia big man threw punch after punch, as he poured in a season-high 38 points on the C’s. Though, Kanter and Theis matched him blow-for-blow, dropping season-highs of their own with 20 points and 16 points respectively.

Together, that tandem helped Boston take Philly down to the wire before falling 115-109. Although it wasn’t the outcome the C’s were hoping for in the win column, they were certainly pleased with the combined effort they got out of their two centers against one of the strongest players in the league.

“We don't have a lot of guys that have a lot of center strength, old-school center strength,” coach Brad Stevens said after the game. “I think [Vincent Poirier] is a little stronger than people realize, so his time could come down the road. Theis was really good tonight and he battled, but it's a hard matchup obviously. We got a lot out of Kanter and Theis.”

Kanter came off the bench and knocked down 10 of his 13 field-goal attempts, while also tallying team-highs in rebounds (nine), steals (two) and blocked shots (two).

As those latter three departments indicate, Kanter had a strong defensive game in spite of Embiid’s scoring output. He was able to match Embiid’s physicality on a number of defensive possessions, which he attributed to his teammates, “Talking, communicating, and trusting each other every time we’re out there.”

On the other end, the Turkish big man was able to drop in one bucket for every two and a half minutes that he was on the floor.

“It just happened,” he said of his offensive outpour. “My mindset was to go out there and try to get stops. I was not thinking about getting buckets. My job was to bring physicality, get every rebound and bring toughness.”

Theis also played with a lot of toughness, as he logged a 7-of-11 shooting performance, while also corralling five rebounds, dishing out one assist and blocking one shot.

“He’s been amazing all year,” Kanter said of his frontcourt teammate. “He’s having the best season of his career, playing with a lot of confidence, all credit to Brad’s system and all our guards.”

One of those guards, Kemba Walker, has been impressed by the work ethic of Theis and Kanter throughout the season, leaving him pleased with their performance from Thursday night.

“We love having those guys,” said Walker, who tallied team-highs of 29 points and eight assists. “They do so many things, especially Theis. He does so much for us, things that don’t really show up on the stat sheet. Enes, he was huge. He played some great defense, he made some great plays offensively as well, and we need those guys to continue to do that for us. We’re going to have a lot of attention on us (guards and wings), and hopefully it opens things up for those guys.”

Having things open up for Kanter and Theis while playing against one of the toughest centers in the league made Thursday night’s effort all the more impressive for them both.

“I think Embiid is arguably one of the hardest matchups they’ll face in the NBA and he’s a lot to handle,” said Gordon Hayward, who logged 19 points and five assists. “I thought they competed against him and made things tough. And then offensively, playing in the seams, I think they both did a tremendous job. So, it was a good fight by them.”

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