Brad Stevens rattled off the names one after another, and the list continued longer than he would have liked.
“Al’s out, Gordon’s out, Kyrie’s out, Guerschon’s out, Baynes is out,” the Celtics head coach said before Monday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans. Then a slight pause. “I think that’s it.”
With Horford, Hayward, Irving, Yabusele, and Aron Baynes all sidelined, Stevens went deep into his bench in the Celtics’ 113-100 win. He relied on rookie Robert Williams against Anthony Davis, started Terry Rozier, and asked Brad Wanamaker to run the point off the bench, but he also turned to one other player – once again – for a heavy dosage of minutes.
Two nights after finishing a whopping plus-50 in a career night in Chicago, Daniel Theis got another start Monday and played a key part in cementing the Celtics’ sixth consecutive win.
“I think that’s been one of the, kind of, trademarks of this group, has been whoever’s not available, you don’t focus on that,” Stevens said after the game. “You just focus on how to play to your strengths.”
Theis likely won’t see the floor as much when Horford and Baynes return, but he’s done all that’s been expected of him in their absence. Monday, he finished with six points and five rebounds, also helping Williams with the Herculean task of defending Davis.
Much like Wanamaker, the German-born Theis, 26, spent extensive time playing in Europe before joining the Celtics. The two were teammates in Germany, and they waited patiently for their opportunity, keeping faith that the grind would be worth it once they found a home in the NBA. Now, as both players have carved out a role for themselves in Boston, they’re glad they never gave up on themselves.
Theis joined the Celtics during the summer of 2017, transitioning seamlessly to an already-loaded squad. He played 63 games last year, averaging 5.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in close to 15 minutes per game.
It appeared as though Theis would play a key reserve role in the playoffs, but he tore his meniscus in March and underwent season-ending surgery as a result.
During the offseason, once he felt healthy enough to move, Theis worked diligently on his jumper. With a year of NBA experience to learn from, he understood where he had to improve.
“I had a lot of time over the summer working on my shot,” Theis said. “It was my goal to shoot more consistently, so hopefully I can keep it up the whole season.”
So far, his field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage are up from last year, to a very respectable .551 and .333, and his point total has increased slightly from 5.3 to 6.3. After a recent hiccup dealing with plantar fasciitis, Theis is back with the team and playing a key role.
“He’s been great when he’s healthy,” Stevens told reporters after Saturday’s win over the Chicago Bulls. “It’s good to see him get back into the rhythm of things since that Detroit game when he got hurt.”
”I’m a little tired. It’s been a while since I’ve played that long. But I feel great.” pic.twitter.com/NGtWYW6Vv7
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) December 9, 2018
By one statistical measure, Theis pieced together one of the best games in NBA history against the Bulls. His plus-50 is the highest plus-minus in Celtics history. He finished with 22 points on 8 of 15 shooting, adding 10 rebounds and four blocks in Boston’s most lopsided win ever.
In one flurry in the third quarter, he flaunted his versatility in a three-possession sequence, drilling a 3, taking a charge, and driving and dunking in a span of 28 seconds.
Daniel Theis enjoyed a career night, as we took down the Bulls, 133-77. pic.twitter.com/Z557CpkNIu
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) December 9, 2018
Much like Wanamaker, Theis knows the value of staying patient. He also understands the value of playing in Europe. Only for Theis, it wasn’t a decision to head to Europe. It was a decision to stay there.
Growing up in Germany, Theis knew he had a chance to go pro. He played for four different German clubs from 2009-2017. It felt like home because it was, but he knew he couldn’t pass up the opportunity when the Celtics inquired.
Theis said Stevens’s system is similar to one of his German coach’s systems, so the adjustment wasn’t too difficult. He did note that the individual quality of players is at a different level in the NBA, because everyone is so fast and can also shoot.
Theis said knowing how to take care of your body, with a plan in between each game, is imperative. He learned some of that in Germany, but he’s had to prioritize it in Boston because of some unfortunate circumstances. Playing back home helped him become a professional and made the transition to Boston a smooth one.
“I would say if you play a couple years professionally in Europe, it’s good,” Theis told Boston.com. “Playing with pros over there helps you get used to basketball a little more. When you come here, you’ve got to be ready.”