Daniel Theis Earning Big Minutes vs. Big Stars

WALTHAM, Mass. – Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins combined to score 50 points through the first three quarters of action Tuesday night, as they led the New Orleans Pelicans into the fourth frame with an 87-80 lead over the Boston Celtics. Boston had tried to defend the All-Star frontcourt duo with a combination of Aron Baynes, Al Horford and Marcus Morris, but to little avail.

Finally, the Celtics found their solution to Davis and Cousins in the form of rookie Daniel Theis. The German big man was inserted into the game at the start of the fourth quarter, after playing just five minutes and 17 seconds during the opening three frames. He ended up playing so well against New Orleans’ frontcourt that Brad Stevens could not take him out of the game.

Theis played all but 53 seconds of the final frame, while helping to limit Davis and Cousins to shoot a combined 1-of-7 from the field. His strong defense allowed the Celtics to hold New Orleans to only 17 points during the final quarter of regulation, after it had scored at least 26 points during each of the previous three quarters.

Ultimately, Theis’ clutch defense played a key role in enabling Boston to tie up the game and send it into overtime, before eventually falling, 116-113.

“I thought Daniel was great with his energy defensively,” Horford said after the game. “He hit a big 3 there toward the end of the fourth, which was a huge lift for us. He had a lot of good energy. I was glad to see he was able to step up for the opportunity.”

Theis is always looking to step up when his name is called, but he especially wanted to do so last night. He was looking to prove himself against two of the best bigs in the league, and also wanted to make up for a momentary lapse that he had during the first quarter when he allowed Davis to escape for an alley-oop dunk.

“When I came in in the fourth quarter, I just wanted to play defense, because in the first half Davis got me on the spinout on an alley-oop and it was on video,” Theis recalled with a smile following Wednesday afternoon’s practice in Waltham, Massachusetts. “I was just trying to get in there and play physical, especially against Cousins. I’ve never played against him, but I know he doesn’t like it. He gets, like, not mad, but (frustrated). So I tried to pressure him and just tried to put my focus on defense.”

Theis led the team in fourth-quarter minutes while tallying five points, three rebounds – including two offensive boards – two assists and one steal. Earning such significant action in a crunch-time situation was humbling for the 6-foot-9 big.

“It’s an honor and I’m lucky that Brad trusts me,” said Theis. “When he puts me in in the fourth quarter, and like yesterday when he kept me in for 11 minutes straight, I’m happy he trusts me like that and that my teammates trust me the same way.”

It’s difficult to garner such trust as a rookie, but Theis’ teammates don’t view him as a first-year player. The 25-year-old came to the NBA this past summer with seven years of professional experience under his belt, having been a star player in various international leagues.

“He has some experience from overseas, even though he’s a rookie in the NBA,” said Horford. “He just has a good feel for the game. That’s why I feel he has been able to transition so easily to our game.”

The transition hasn’t been too difficult for Theis, but carving out a consistent role with the Celtics has been. Theis’ minutes vary on a nightly basis, as his range of playing time has spanned from a 34-second stint on Dec. 15 against Utah, all the way up to a 24-minute and 32-second stint on Jan. 5 against Minnesota.

The inconsistent playing time hasn’t been an issue for Theis, however, because he entered the season with no expectations in regard to his role.

“We had 10 new players, so I didn’t know what to expect, really,” said Theis. “I came here and said I’m going to work hard. Every time I get a chance to step on the court, I want to use it.

He added, “Preseason was short because I’m used to in Europe and Germany where we had preseason for six, seven weeks, so you had time to adjust, to prove yourself. Here, I think we had a week before the first preseason game, so I’m just trying to help the team in any way I can.”

Just about every time Theis has stepped onto the court this season, he has done just that. He is currently averaging 4.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, while logging 13.6 minutes per contest. He’s leading the team in field goal percentage (52.3%) and rebounding percentage (16.9%), while providing energy on just about every defensive possession that he’s involved in.

It’s clear that all of those contributions are allowing Theis to build trust among Boston’s coaching staff, and that’s why he earned the most minutes of any Celtics player during the fourth quarter of Tuesday's nail-biting defeat.

Showing that he can successfully defend two of the top bigs in the game certainly help his cause, too.