Boston Celtics

By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub

When did Daniel Theis turn into Dikembe Mutombo? 

With Al Horford and Aron Baynes tearing it up elsewhere this season, Brad Stevens’ pivot options were limited from the jump. An injury to Enes Kanter further exacerbated the lack of beef up front. Fortunately, Boston shooting and defense has masked thus far their deficiencies on the glass (21st in offensive rebounding, 25th in rebound percentage).

And Theis has wowed. At 6-foot-8, the third-year veteran is in the top-30 in rebound percentage and has 15 rejections through his first six games after totaling a mere 90 blocks across his first two seasons (129 games). His 2.5 blocks per game this year puts him near the top of the league.

Perhaps the pairing with Robert Williams has unlocked Theis’ inner fly swatter. For his part, Williams could benefit from studying Theis’ positioning, which, along with his teammates’ affinity for taking charges, has buoyed a top-five defense.

Jaylen Brown (when healthy), Gordon Hayward, Jason Tatum and Kemba Walker have crashed to help Theis clear the glass, and so far, Stevens has been able to make it work without ceding regular minutes to a seven-footer.

While Theis’ block party is likely to end given his track record, his play inside (in just 22 minutes a night) is one of many positive developments during Boston’s 6-1 start.

Backup Plan

Handomsely-compensated Hornet Terry Rozier got his chance for a revenge game Thursday night and made just one of 11 attempts from the field. While Scary Terry didn’t exactly cloak himself in glory during his last season in Boston, he was the kind of high-scoring bench option this year’s squad has thus far failed to identify. Reserve unit production was a preseason concern that has lingered in the early going. Boston’s 23.6 bench points per game ranks last in the NBA.

Early injuries to Brown and Kanter shredded the team’s depth, and even when he comes off the pine, Marcus Smart isn’t exactly Dale Ellis. However, he’s produced three of the team’s seven double figure outings from the second unit (Carsen Edwards, Grant Williams and Javonte Green have the others). 

Preseason darling Edwards smoked the Cavs for 26 points in a single quarter when the games didn’t count. Fresh off a goose egg in Charlotte, he’s scored just 29 through his first six regular season appearances (helped by a season-best 13-point effort against – yes – Cleveland). Edwards seems capable of more, and he will be asked for it.

Oct 15, 2019; Cleveland, OH: Boston Celtics guard Carsen Edwards shoots a three-point basket in the third quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. (David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)

Oct 15, 2019; Cleveland, OH: Boston Celtics guard Carsen Edwards shoots a three-point basket in the third quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. (David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)

Same with Williams, particularly when it comes to stretching the floor. He hasn’t hit a three-pointer in 10 attempts. But the three-year college player brings the defensive chops to the table even when he’s not producing offensively. 

It’s early. The Celtics are unique in that four members of their starting five are capable of exploding on any given night. They may not need a ton from their bench. But with all the goodwill generated from a 6-1 start, it’s important to keep an eye on some things.

Through the Quad and into the Gymnasium

Last year was so miserable, you don’t remember that eight-game winning streak last November into December, do you? Well, the Celtics did have an eight-gamer, where they outscored opponents by 23 points per game. It’s hard to imagine, given the way things unraveled. 

These totals were helped by a 56-point pasting of the woeful Bulls, a 33-point shellacking of the Cavs and a 28-point drubbing of the Knicks. But that’s the anatomy of a winning streak. And with the Eastern Conference up for grabs, this year’s model will take as many blowouts as they can get in the interest of improved playoff seeding and rest for their key players.

Boston’s freshly-minted six-game winning streak gets its next test Saturday night against the 5-3 Spurs, who got the win over Oklahoma City Thursday night behind 39 points from LaMarcus Aldridge.

Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. His Celtics notebook appears Fridays on Talk C’s with him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.