By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
In true 2019-20 Celtics fashion, there’s no one player to solely credit for the Celtics’ season-saving Game 5 victory.
But if you’re looking for improbable heroes, Boston’s ability to live another day came by way of the No. 5 position, as Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter provided the multiple boosts needed Friday night.
“We got a lot out of that center position tonight,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said after the win. “That’s important.”
On the floor for 34:45, the tone was helped set by the two-way play of Theis, who recorded the second double-double of his postseason career with 15 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
“I thought [Theis] was pretty good all night,” Stevens offered. “I thought he started the game with good energy defensively.
“I thought he was one of our bright spots early.”
In that second half, however, the 6-foot-8 transitioned his game to ‘excellent’ territory, according to Stevens. On the floor for almost the entire third quarter, which saw the Celtics hammer the Heat for 41 points and a plus-16 differential for Boston, the German’s third-quarter effort concluded with six points, two blocks, and three rebounds.
Theis was also instrumental in the success of the C’s pick-and-roll game and off screens, and was able to be a zone-buster for the structure that’s given the Green fits at points in this series.
“We need him to provide what he provides,” Stevens said of the German center. “He was great in the middle of the zone. He caught it twice and scored. He was great there on the glass on both ends.”
But Theis’ second-half execution probably doesn’t come without that breather by way of Enes Kanter’s first half fill-in work.
And if you wanna talk about maximizing your on-court minutes, look no further than Kanter’s Game 5: Subbed into play for 10:10 of play, the 6-foot-10 center put up 10 shots on 4-for-7 shooting, added two assists, and grabbed four rebounds. And thrown into play with the Celtics down by 10, Kanter rattled off six of the C’s next eight points.
With the season on the verge of slipping away, Kanter threw a smash-mouth attack on his back for a much-needed kickstart.
“We were struggling, they hit some really tough shots, [and Duncan] Robinson was going nuts,” Stevens said of the Cs second quarter before Kanter jumped off the bench. “Kanter’s points there in the paint I thought really helped. That kind of helped steady us, give us a chance at halftime, only being down seven.”
“He’s in a unique situation where he never knows when he’s going to play, but he’s always ready to give us that boost, that spark at both ends, especially rebounding it and getting the ball in the low post,” echoed Tatum.
For the first time in the entire series, the Celtics won the battle at center.
And that’s worth noting when you consider that Heat center Bam Adebayo entered this game battling a left arm/wrist issue that popped up late in Game 4, and looked downright uncomfortable with this targeting. And Adebayo finished with a team-worst minus-15, and got into and remained in foul trouble with Boston’s bruising approach.
Whether this is now the key to the series or not remains to be seen, and the Celtics still aren’t afforded any room for error, now down 3-2 instead of 3-1, but on Friday night, survival came front and center.
“I think the threat at the rim of a big makes a big difference for our offense and for us,” said Stevens. “We’ll certainly have opportunities to go back to it. But there’s not like this obvious answer with big or small. I think Miami does a great job of punishing you when you go small, screening low so you can’t switch, stopping their screen short, rebounding against it.
“There’s positives and negatives. But our bigs lineups did a good job tonight.”