With the Celtics clinging to a two-point lead in the final seconds Friday, and Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young dribbling in front of him, Daniel Theis trusted his instincts.
Young had already hit five 3s in the game, and he’s never one to shy away from the moment, so Theis assumed Young would step back and let it fly.
“He crossed over, he probably would have beat me for a layup,” Theis told reporters. “I was expecting him to go for the game-winner, to shoot the 3. So just be close. If he beats me to the rim, makes the layup, worst case we go to overtime.”
Theis’s intuition served him well, and he stayed with Young step for step and ultimately rose up for a clutch, game-sealing block with just over 4 seconds left. Marcus Smart added a free throw, and that was that, as the Celtics held on for a 109-106 win in a game they once trailed 29-11.
The Celtics big man’s teammates and head coach were quick to praise him afterward. He finished with 14 points, six rebounds, two blocks, and a steal, but the block was by far his biggest contribution — and the biggest play of the game.
“That’s a big-time basketball play,” Brad Stevens said. “It sounds easy when we sit here and talk about it, but in the throes of the game and knowing Trae is capable of getting to the rim on anybody, that’s a huge, huge play.”
Friday night was the epitome of a team win. Multiple players made key plays during the 4Q, highlighted by Daniel Theis’ game-saving block. pic.twitter.com/Zgg0JJ7GFg
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) January 4, 2020
MassLive.com reporter John Karalis pointed out that the Hawks were out of timeouts when the moment presented itself. If they had called one, Stevens would have likely subbed Theis out. Instead, the scenario unfolded quite nicely for the Celtics, as Theis was able to hold his own 1-on-1 and avoid fouling one of the game’s elite playmakers.
Smart, who knows a thing or two about clutch defensive stops, was thrilled about both that play in particular and Theis’s overall contributions.
“For him to be able to guard a guy like Trae Young in that situation, where quick, no timeouts, they’re coming back at you, it’s a two-point game but not everybody probably knows that,” Smart said. “But Theis does a good job of running him off the line. And he makes a good play, when he steps back he blocks his shot. But like I said, Theis has been doing it all year for us. I’m proud of him.”