BOSTON – Daniel Theis may have eight seasons of professional basketball under his belt, but the NBA style of play is completely foreign to him. It sure didn’t look that way Monday night, however, as he dominated in his NBA debut for the Boston Celtics during their preseason-opening win over the Charlotte Hornets.
Theis came off the bench to lead the team in points (12) and rebounds (seven), while amazingly playing just 14 minutes during Boston’s 94-82 win. The German big man also dished out three assists, snagged one steal, blocked one shot, and hit his only 3-point attempt, to round out as complete of a debut as he could have hoped for.
“I just tried to bring some energy and have fun out there,” said Theis, who is a three-time German League champion and four-time German League All-Star. “And I think I did a pretty good job.”
A pretty good job, indeed. Theis first checked in at the 1:43 mark of the third quarter, and it took him only 20 seconds to earn his first TD Garden ovation. With the C’s up 62-61, the 25-year-old center rolled to the basket and slammed home a dunk off of a nice dish from fellow newcomer Shane Larkin.
Less than a minute and a half later, Theis would add an even more impressive dunk to his resume, as he threw down a put-back jam with one second remaining in the quarter to give Boston a 68-62 lead heading into the final frame.
“He was really good,” coach Brad Stevens reflected. “He was quick to the rim, and we needed that. He was getting behind on rolls, got his hands on a couple of balls and kept them alive, had the tip-dunk at the end of the quarter off of the roll. And that’s what he does best. He can shoot the ball, he can play in space, but he’s very quick to the rim.”
What impressed Stevens most was Theis’ ability to adjust so smoothly despite playing a very different style of international basketball throughout his career.
“For him, I think probably as much as anybody, it’s been an adjustment over the last week, just because even our other younger guys, almost all of them played Summer League at one time or another,” said Stevens. “So at least they’ve been in it a little bit. But for him I think it’s been really a big adjustment, and I think he did a really good job tonight.”
Theis said the biggest difference in the NBA is the speed of the game. In Europe, he was used to running the shot clock down, but in the NBA he’s playing a style of ball where teams will often shoot after one or two passes.
That being said, the fundamentals are all the same, so the adjustment isn’t overwhelmingly challenging for him.
“I’ve been playing professionally for eight years, so it was something new, but it still was not so new,” said Theis. “I just tried to enjoy it and just play basketball. It’s the same game I’ve been playing for years.”
Theis wasn’t the only player who impressed Monday night off the bench. Just about every Boston reserve made an impact, which was an outstanding sign considering that seven Celtics were making their NBA debuts.
Rookie forward Abdel Nader tallied 10 points and four rebounds while playing just 11 minutes. Nineteen-year-old forward Jayson Tatum added to the first-year fun with nine points, five assists, five rebounds, two steals and two blocks, all while playing a game-high 33 minutes.
Not only did the young guns play well, but they were also able to maintain Boston’s lead and guide them to an easy victory. Their strong play gave the first unit a breath of fresh air, as guys like Gordon Hayward, Al Horford and Kyrie Irving didn’t even have to step foot on the court during the second half.
Irving, who scored nine points during 19 minutes of action in his Celtics debut described the bench effort as “inspiring basketball.”
Hayward, who chipped in with five points and five boards in 17 minutes added, “We have a lot of talent on the team. We have a lot of depth, and we’re going to need to use that. The time [the second unit] is out there, that’s valuable minutes, even if it’s preseason.”
Typically, the preseason is a time for inexperienced bench units to iron out kinks. However, with Theis leading the charge, Boston’s reserves were flat-out balling Monday night as they passed their first preseason test with ease.