Celtics

Bigger competition on the horizon for Daniel Theis, Celtics defenders

Bigger competition on the horizon for Daniel Theis, Celtics defenders

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.

Defense is what's fueling the Celtics' strong play of late

Defense is what's fueling the Celtics' strong play of late

BOSTON -- The Los Angeles Lakers came to town and got crushed by the Boston Celtics. 

Up next was Memphis, a red-hot team on the rise with a next-level rookie leading the way, who got one of those back-of-the-woodshed beatdowns. 

The Celtics are coming off their best back-to-back performances this season and are looking to continue that strong play away from the TD Garden with the next three games on the road, beginning with Friday night’s matchup at Orlando. 

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Indeed, there is an undeniable amount of pressure on them to continue on their winning ways. 

And the key to that success lies in their defense; specifically their ability to apply pressure at a consistent level. 

The last two games have seen the Celtics deliver the defensive hammer in a way we have not seen with this kind of consistency. 

Yes, it’s only two games. 

But here’s the thing. 

You can probably count the minutes in those two games that Boston hasn’t played with a sharp edge defensively, on the one hand. 

And the numbers only amplify how well they have ratcheted up their play at that end of the floor lately. 

In the last two games, Boston’s defense has averaged 25.0 points off turnovers which is tops in the league, 22.5 fast-break points which ranks second in the NBA in the last two games, and they are limiting opponents to just 10.0 points via fast-breaks which is the league’s fifth-lowest average in the last two games. 

Blanketing teams with pressure defensively has been something Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has been imploring his players to do all season. 

“Without any resistance, they catch it inside the three-point line or at the three-point line without any resistance, then we’re in trouble,” Stevens said. “Our best rim defense is keeping the ball away from it.”

And lately, the Celtics have done this at an elite level with their position-less brand of basketball paying dividends by being able to switch constantly defensively and not being burned by a bad matchup. 

Daniel Theis has been particularly impressive recently. 

This season, Theis has a defensive rating of 103.4 but in the last two games, his defensive rating is a strong 78.9. 

And when you start looking at Boston’s other core players, they too have seen a noticeable improvement in their defensive ratings such as Jayson Tatum (101.8 defensive rating this season, 80.2 in the last two games); Gordon Hayward (104.7 this season, 91.3 defensive rating the last two games); and Kemba Walker whose defensive rating of 108.6 has taken a major nose dive the last two games, to 94.8. 

“We have to be a defense-first kind of team; we are,” Hayward told NBC Sports Boston earlier this week. “When we let our defense leads the way for us, good things usually happen.”

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Magic, which begins Friday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Celtics rookie Tacko Fall gets seven player votes for NBA All-Star Game

Celtics rookie Tacko Fall gets seven player votes for NBA All-Star Game

Tacko-mania isn't just for fans. Apparently, some NBA players are in on the craze too.

Tacko Fall has been among fan voting leaders for the 2020 NBA All-Star Game, and he managed to snag a few votes from his NBA peers despite appearing in only four games with the Boston Celtics this season. He's spent most of his time in the NBA G League with the Maine Red Claws.

The 7-foot-5 phenom received seven player votes, topping teammates Gordon Hayward (six) and Enes Kanter (four). Fellow C's rookie Grant Williams earned two votes from players.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Considering the amount of attention Tacko has received throughout his rookie campaign, it's really no surprise he's faring well in the popularity contest that is NBA All-Star voting. While it's all fun and games for some, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens made it known he isn't a fan of Tacko-mania extending into the voting process.

Celtics star Kemba Walker was named a starter for the All-Star Game on Thursday. Reserves will be announced on Jan. 30.

Forsberg: This is no passing fancy with Smart

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Magic, which begins Friday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.