BOSTON — The concerns about the Boston Celtics and their bigs on the defensive end have been well documented, discussed and dissected all season.
But in what has been a never-ending storm of questions, the answer to emerge for some — but not all — of the team’s big man issues, can be summed up in two words: Daniel Theis.
His play for the most part won’t be included in your sizzle reel or end-of-the-season plays to remember.
But there is no question that a big part of why Boston (17-5) has been among the best teams in the NBA most of this season has been the contributions made by the third-year center, who has emerged as the leader of what has been a pack of potential bigs contending to play big minutes this season.
And the challenge awaiting Theis and the Celtics’ other bigs won’t get much bigger than this week as they face Indiana and Philadelphia on back-to-back nights, with each team’s success fueled in part by the play of not one, but two talented bigs.
For the Pacers, we’re talking about Domantas Sabonis, who is playing at an All-Star level this season, along with Myles Turner, who has also been solid at both ends of the floor for Indiana.
The Sixers are led by Joel Embiid, but the Celtics know better than most not to sleep on the play of Al Horford, who spent the previous three seasons in Boston.
Boston will continue to employ a bigs-by-committee approach, one that will more likely than not begin with Theis.
“I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help the team,” Theis recently told NBC Sports Boston. “Rebound, defend, block a shot, whatever they need me to do, that’s what I’m trying to do.”
More than anything else, the Celtics have leaned on him to be a presence in the middle when it comes to contesting shots.
And so far he has been up to the challenge.
Statisitics from NBA.com show that those who shoot against Theis are only connecting on 42.3 percent of their shots.
To give that the proper context, consider this:
There are only three centers in the NBA whose defense has yielded a lower shooting percentage, and two of those centers are Anthony Davis (38.2 percent) and Rudy Gobert (39.4) with the third in the middle of the top three being Miami’s Bam Adebayo (38.7).
“He (Theis) doesn’t get a lot of credit for what he does for this team,” Marcus Smart told NBC Sports Boston. “But we know, the players, the coaching staff, we know how important he is to what we want to do every night.”
Theis is quick to acknowledge any success or praise he deserves is more about what the team is doing and not just his work defensively.
“We have good defenders, but we can’t be a really good team defensively unless we lean on each other,” Theis said. “I play well defensively when the team plays well, and when the team plays well, I usually play well; not always, but most of the time.”
Theis’ play defensively is no surprise to the Boston Celtics.
That was among the many reasons why they signed him two years ago.
While in Germany, Theis not only won championships, but also stood out as one of the best defenders in Europe.
A four-time German League All-Star (2014-2017) and three-time German League champion (2015-2017), Theis was also named the German League’s best defender in 2017.
Celtics guard Brad Wanamaker won a German League title in 2016 with Theis when the two played for Bros Bamberg.
“Nothing surprises me about Theis,” Wanamaker told NBC Sports Boston. “He’s a good player. He can rebound, defend, shoot the ball better than most people know. Back then when we played in Germany, he did a lot of the little things, the dirty work, for us to win and he’s doing a lot of that same stuff now.”
While he may be contributing in a multitude of areas, defense has been his focus.
It’ll need to be that way with two of the more rugged teams up next.
“It’s something I always wanted to do, wanted to be good at,” Theis said when asked about playing defense. “When I play, I want to win. And I know to win, you have to play good defense, have a good team defensively.”
Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Pacers, which tips off Wednesday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.