Celtics' Morris: I thrive when defending LeBron
WALTHAM, Mass. — Boston Celtics forward Marcus Morris — never short on confidence, as his shot selection often confirms — is ready to embrace the challenge of defending Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James.
On the eve of the Eastern Conference finals, Morris showered James with praise but also stressed how he feels he’s one of the best in the NBA at making things tough on James.
“Personally, I think I’m probably the best guy defending him in the league, outside of Kawhi [Leonard],” said Morris.
Morris had been asked about defending James during his only other playoff foray, with the Detroit Pistons during the 2015-16 season.
“That series, it was fun. It was my first time being in the playoffs, being able to go against one of the best players in the league, if not the best. It was definitely a good time,” said Morris. “Circumstances are a little different now. I’m a little older, a little more experienced.”
Morris could be tasked with defending James more than any other Boston player, although the Celtics have hinted they will send a variety of bodies James’ way. During the regular season, only Jaylen Brown logged more matchups (56) than Morris (55) against James, according to Second Spectrum data. Morris played in only two of Boston’s three games against Cleveland.
James put up 24 points on 8-of-16 shooting with 10 assists and only one turnover when defended by Morris during those 55 matchups, according to Second Spectrum. The Cavaliers averaged 116.4 points per 100 possessions when Morris and James were matched up.
In Boston’s lone win over the Cavaliers during the regular season, Morris did limit James to 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting (36.4 percent) over 30 possessions and was Boston’s best option that day.
Morris made sure to note that it’s going to take a team effort to limit James’ impact on the series.
“There’s not going to be one guy that’s going to be able to defend him. He’s the best player in this game,” said Morris. “My thing is just cut down the easy baskets. Cut down the easy baskets, and cut down the other guys that are going to score. We can’t have [James’ supporting cast] having 30-point games and 20-point games, and I think that gives us the best chance to win, because he’s going to do what he’s going to do, but as long as we make it tough for him and don’t give up the easy ones.”
Morris suggested the Toronto Raptors didn’t offer much resistance during Cleveland’s Round 2 sweep.
“I think in the Toronto series, no disrespect to them, but watching film, it just looked very easy at times. He looked very confident. He was getting to different places on the court,” said Morris. “And there was no help. I didn’t see no physicality, I didn’t see any of that. I think that’s something different that we will bring to the table.”
Asked if James has the ability to break teams with his talents, Morris said he wouldn’t allow that to happen to him.
“I’ve never really been at a point where, s—, anybody’s ever broken me with shots or anything like that,” said Morris. “I think he’s probably broken Toronto, if that’s what you were referring to. S—, I think Indiana did a great job against Cleveland in that [first-round] series. Unfortunately, Toronto got swept, but like I said in the beginning, it looked very easy. He looked very confident. Obviously, he’s always confident, but the things that he did, it looked too easy to me.”
The Celtics acquired Morris from the Pistons this summer in a deal where the team sent out Avery Bradley. It both cleared cap space for Boston to sign Gordon Hayward and gave Boston another versatile defender to throw at James.
“That’s one of the things [Celtics GM/president of basketball operations Danny Ainge] said when I first got here, that I was one of the guys they felt as though could guard LeBron,” said Morris. “So they really wanted me here, and not only because of that, just the toughness and things like that. But that was definitely one of the major points that he brought up when getting me here.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has stressed that one player alone can’t be tasked with slowing James.
“Totally a collective effort,” said Stevens. “Marcus is a big, strong, competitive guy, but you have to guard LeBron as a team. LeBron’s a special player, and they have really good players around him.”