Daniel Theis making a strong case to be a starter for the Celtics

Daniel Theis making a strong case to be a starter for the Celtics

BOSTON -- Daniel Theis is on board with the across-the-board messaging coming out of Boston Celtics training camp this year, centered around building team chemistry and good habits. 

Lately, Theis has made it a habit of being in the right place at the right time for the Celtics since joining the starting lineup in the last two preseason games. 

And the way he has played, the 27-year-old Theis is positioning himself to be the team’s starting center. 

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has acknowledged that this season may be one in which the starting center position is rotated on a nightly basis depending upon matchups. 

But there’s no mistaking the play of Theis has, on many levels, elevated him to top-shelf status as far as the center position is concerned. 

He has been in the starting lineup each of the last two preseason games, both resulting in blowout wins for Boston (3-0).

Indeed, it has not gone unnoticed by Stevens how well Theis has fit in with the starting group that includes Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. 

It’s particularly noticeable on the defensive end of the floor.

“If you watch closely, that’s a tied-together group on that end of the court,” Stevens said. “And obviously, when you don’t start (Marcus) Smart you have your best defender coming off the bench. So, it’s really important that that group starts, able to understand when to kick guys out, when to be up, when to be back, when to react to a threat and they’re really good at it, together.”

And as far as Theis’ role, Stevens added, “Daniel’s gotten better at that over time. That’s largely the result of being here the longest. We’ve had really good defenders in (Aron) Baynes and (Al) Horford, that he’s played behind. But he’s working on all that stuff, too.”

Theis says the only thing he’s trying to accomplish when he’s on the floor, “is to be myself.”

He added, “Coaches want us to pressure, run the court; I think all of us bigs, we can run the court and pressure and play hard.”

While that’s true, one of the advantages Theis has is among the team’s big men, he is the most experienced with the Celtics system. 

And at 6-foot-8 with solid lateral quickness, Theis has shown himself to be effective when having to switch out on smaller players which is becoming a more common necessity in a league where big-man defenders are challenged to limit teams that often use more non-traditional, smaller lineups. 

In Boston’s blowout win at Orlando on Friday, Theis switching out defensively led to a pair of Magic turnovers in the first quarter that helped set the tone in the victory. 

His ability to contest shots at the rim has enabled Boston’s wings to swoop in for rebounds which has allowed the Celtics to get out in transition which they will have to do more of this season due to the team’s overall lack of size. 

The other four starters - Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum - will assume the lion’s share of the scoring load, but that’s fine with Theis. 

When it comes to scoring, he doesn’t need a bunch of touches to feel involved. 

But he does want to do his part to make sure he’s at least seen as a scoring threat when he’s on the floor, especially when it comes to long-range shooting. 

With Horford (Philadelphia) and Baynes (Phoenix) no longer on the roster, Boston doesn’t really have a 3-point threat from the center position. 

And then there’s Theis, who has shown the ability to make that shot but hasn’t taken it too often in the past. 

A career 35.2 percent 3-point shooter, Theis connected on 38.8 percent of his 3’s last season. 

But here’s the catch … he averaged just 1.0 attempt per game.

Knowing that he might be called upon to be more of a long-range shooter this season, Theis said improving his range was something he focused on during the offseason. 

But more than the shooting, Theis wanted to best ensure that he was in good health heading into this season. 

Theis was playing some of the best basketball of his NBA career when he suffered a torn meniscus injury in his left knee in March of 2018 - just weeks prior to the start of the playoffs. 

Since returning to the lineup, Theis has made strengthening that knee a priority. That involves additional stretching routines as part of his usual pre-game and pre-practice warm-up routine. 

But it’s a small price to pay for the opportunity to play significant minutes this season.

“Like I said, when I get out there, I just want to be myself and just help us win,” Theis told NBC Sports Boston. “Rebound, defense, score, whatever they need me to do I’ll do.”

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Celtics had a terrific celebration planned for Grant Williams' first 3-pointer

Celtics had a terrific celebration planned for Grant Williams' first 3-pointer

Even the best-laid plans go awry when you're too excited about your teammate making his first career 3-pointer.

Celtics rookie Grant Williams finally hit a deep ball Monday night in the third quarter of Boston's win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, ending an 0-for-25 spell to begin his NBA career and causing his teammates to go wild on the bench.

It was a hilarious celebration for a cool moment -- but not the celebration the Celtics had planned.

Backup point guard Brad Wanamaker told the Boston Sports Journal's Brian Robb what should have happened after Williams' first 3-pointer.

If you watch the video, Wanamaker actually stuck to the plan and "passed out" on the sideline, but the rest of his teammates were too excited (shocked, perhaps?) to remember to follow suit.

We appreciate the effort, Brad.

According to Williams, his teammates' celebration also included some colorful language.

"A lot of it was graphic," Williams told reporters when asked what the Celtics were yelling at him after his 3-pointer. "Especially Carsen (Edwards), you know. But outside of that, it was a good moment, just because they were celebrating me."

It helped that the C's were cruising to a 110-88 win over the Cavs, giving them full latitude to celebrate Williams first deep ball however they wanted.

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.

Kemba Walker stays ready, even in blowouts, when it matters for the Celtics

Kemba Walker stays ready, even in blowouts, when it matters for the Celtics

BOSTON -- Kemba Walker had every reason to think that his night was over going into the fourth quarter. 

Boston had a commanding lead against a Cleveland Cavaliers squad that’s considered one of the worst teams in the NBA. 

But as the game got a little too close for head coach Brad Stevens’ comfort, he turned to Walker.

And Walker responded with a barrage of 3-pointers that left the Cavs as nothing more than collateral damage in the wake of Boston’s 110-88 win. 

Walker finished with a game-high 22 points which included a trio of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter that put the Cavs (5-18) away for good. 

Boston led by as many as 29 points in the second half, only to see that lead down to as little as 14 points in the fourth with seven minutes to play. 

That’s when he called on Walker who came up with one big shot after another. 

And the way Walker responded in the fourth quarter when called upon by Stevens was a reminder of just how important it has become for the best players to be locked in from the opening tip-off to the final horn - even when victory seems all but a given. 

Said Stevens: “I just told the team afterwards, ‘If you want to be special then model after Kemba because Kemba sits over there thinks his night’s done, gets put back into the game, drills three 3’s and ends it.

Stevens added, “Special is not for everybody.”

Having spent his first eight seasons with the Charlotte Hornets, Walker knows exactly what the Cavs were thinking as they steadily chipped away at Boston’s lead.

Understanding the mindset of a team and players on the comeback trail has helped Walker appreciate and embrace the need to always stay on top of his game and ready to go - even when victory seems all but a given. 

Walker understands how a player can lose focus on the game and become relaxed down the stretch in what appears to be a blowout in the making. 

“It’s possible,” Walker says before adding, “But at the end of the day you have to stay engaged through the whole game. You just never know. In this league, 20-point leads go so fast. Teams can score in bunches really fast. You have to stay engaged.”

Which is exactly what he did. 

That not only helped Boston get the victory on Monday, but also served as a great example for the team’s younger players on how to handle themselves when things get sidetracked after going just the way they want them to for most of the game. 

“He set a great example, what he’s done in this league for a very long time,” Tatum said. “That’s why he’s one of the best players in the league.”

And a leader on this team. 

“As one of the leaders I feel I have to stay engaged,” Walker said. “Just like … you never know what to expect.  This league, guys can score so fast and easy. You just never know when teams will come back. It can get a little nerve-racking and Brad felt he had to put me back in. I knew once I got in there, I had to be more aggressive, look for my shot a little more and that’s what I did.”

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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.