By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — This is essentially a love letter to Daniel Theis, because the Celtics center really doesn’t get as much love as he deserves. Especially not from the officials.

Theis was allowed to play his game Monday night in Game 5, showing exactly what he can do without the weight of three early fouls bestowed upon his back for things like breathing errantly on Kyle Lowry or having the gall to play defense on anyone entering the paint. He took that rare freedom and gave Boston a monster performance on the defensive end, changing shot after shot at the basket as the Celtics played some smothering defense in the first half.

Theis only recorded a pair of blocked shots in Boston’s 111-89 win, but his impact on the defensive end went well beyond a few rejections. His versatility and ability to stay in front of almost everyone is extremely important to the switch-centric Celtics, and it was on full display in the first quarter Monday evening.

Midway through the opening frame, Theis found himself on Kyle Lowry on the three-point line. Lowry is as crafty as they come, and threw a trio of upfakes at Theis, hoping to get the Celtics big man in the air and a trip to the free throw line. Theis didn’t bite on any of those fakes, and all Lowry ended up with was a shot clock violation. The Raptors would score just 11 points in the opening quarter, flummoxed throughout by Boston’s incredible effort on the defensive end.

Theis was in control throughout his entire 30 minutes on the floor Monday night, and shockingly, he was only whistled for three fouls. It’s a miracle that he wasn’t somehow hit with an infraction for having his face in the way of Pascal Siakam’s foot in the second quarter — which was only ruled a common foul on Siakam, likely because Theis was on the receiving end.

Complaining about officials is the least of anyone’s worries in 2020, but it’s fairly common for Celtics fans when it comes to Daniel Theis. (Theis himself doesn’t complain much at all.) Throughout the postseason, there has been a “War On Theis,” with the Boston big man getting hit with 27 personal fouls in the playoffs, tied for seventh-most. In Game 3, he was hit with a flagrant foul after he inadvertently caught Lowry with an elbow while backing up.

An inadvertent elbow is a flagrant on Theis, yet when he gets booted in the face (also by accident) it’s a common foul. Neither should have been a flagrant, but such is life for Daniel Theis.

It’s led to some interesting moments and some quizzical looks from the German big man on the floor

Marc Gasol checks Daniel Theis’ sinuses in Game 4. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

A surprised Daniel Theis reacts after being called for a foul for playing defense. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Through it all, Theis continues to do his thing on defense, and do it extremely well. Boston is holding Toronto to 92.6 points per 100 possessions when Theis is on the floor, which is the best defensive rating in the second round. He knows his role, and he very rarely tries to do too much on either end.

Theis may never become a household name, but those who love basketball should know who he is. Unfortunately that isn’t the case, as even Shaq didn’t know Theis at halftime of Game 5, commending “This kid right here” for running the floor on every single play — another calling card for the big man. Shaq said that Theis reminds him of Chris “Birdman” Anderson, which is actually a pretty solid comparison.

Maybe folks would know his name if that potential game-winning dunk in Game 3 went down as a game-winning dunk, but we all know what happened half-a-second later. No need to bring it up.

But the lack of love and recognition should change if Theis continues to play at an extremely high level and the Celtics continue their quest for a title. The Celtics have a trio of stars leading the charge, but Daniel Theis is as important as any of them.

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