For as long as Marcus Morris has been in the NBA, the veteran forward has played with an edge.
On the eve of Thursday night’s matchup at Phoenix, that edge will likely be sharper than it is for most foes.
That’s because Morris has a level of disdain for the Phoenix Suns organization unlike any other, a sentiment that was sparked by the team’s decision to split up him and his brother up when they both played for the Suns, a move that was in part done to clear space for what would be a failed attempt by the Suns to land LaMarcus Aldridge.
And if you don’t think Morris takes this game personally, look no further than his career numbers against the Suns -- 16.4 points, 53.5 percent shooting from the field in 31.2 minutes -- which are better than against any other team.
But a big game from Morris has a different meaning this season, a season in which the 6-foot-9 forward has elevated his play to a level we have not seen before.
In addition to averaging a career-high 14.7 points per game off the bench this season, he’s also shooting 51 percent from the field, 49 percent on 3s and 86.4 percent from the free throw line, which are also career milestones.
“I’m just taking what the defense gives me, that’s all,” he told NBC Sports Boston recently. “I’m in a good flow, a good rhythm, taking advantage of the minutes I’m given.”
Morris has been one of the more outspoken Celtics when it comes to his desire to play more. But he’s also quick to add that he’s not going to grumble about his minutes, embracing the sentiment that so many players have shared about this team being so special and, because of that, sacrifice of some sort is required by all.
“We’re all into this fighting for something bigger than our own personal stats and that stuff,” he said. “We’re trying to win a championship. That’s what this season is about for us.”
To see Morris evolve into arguably Boston’s most consistent player this season is surprising on several fronts.
For starters, no one -- not even Morris -- could tell how much playing time he would receive.
With the return of Gordon Hayward from last year’s season-ending left ankle/leg injury, coupled with the emergence of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown’s continued growth as a two-way player, the outlook for Morris to play this season was unclear.
But all Morris wanted was a chance to prove himself, to show his value both as a player and leader inside the Celtics’ locker room.
The veteran has succeeded on both fronts, providing a level of consistent play in what has been an otherwise up-and-down season thus far for the Celtics (6-4).
“He’s such an important part of what we do, and who we are,” Al Horford told NBC Sports Boston. “He doesn’t really get enough credit for all he does for this team on the court and inside the locker room.”
Indeed, when Brad Stevens talks about the team’s leaders, Morris’ name has become one of the more prominent ones discussed.
“Our young players have really taken to him, as well as our other veteran players like Al and [Aron] Baynes,” the coach told NBC Sports Boston. “He’s one of our guys who, when young players make mistakes, he’s able to just wrap his arms around them, let them know it’s OK to make mistakes and to keep working and that he’s riding with them. He’s been great for us ever since he’s been here.”
Shortly after arriving in Boston via trade from Detroit last season, Morris developed an unexpectedly quick bond with Jayson Tatum.
That relationship has been among the more under-the-radar factors in Tatum so deftly handling the ups and downs that young players usually endure.
“A guy like Tatum, he’s just like a little brother,” Morris said. “Sometimes he needs answers . . . we just vibe.”
Their relationship began on a team flight in which the two were seated across from each other.
A conversation soon led to a connection that has been Teflon-strong ever since.
“He’s always giving me knowledge, kind of like my big homey,” a then 19-year-old Tatum told NBC Sports Boston. “He’s nine or ten years older than me, but we still can kind of relate.”
The same can not be said for the relationship between Morris and the Suns, the only former team he has a clear and undeniable dislike for.
While praising Houston for giving him his start in the NBA and Detroit for allowing him to grow and eventually trading him to Boston, Marcus has made it clear his feelings for Phoenix are very different.
When ex-Suns general manager Ryan McDonough got fired just days prior to the start of this season, surprise was a common emotion in NBA circles.
Not so much for Morris and his brother Markieff.
Markieff took to Twitter to express his take on the firing while Marcus has remained consistent in his issues being with Phoenix management and ownership.
“I think they could be a lot better,” Morris said earlier of the Suns. “The way they treat their players, what players go through . . . some people think because you’re paid a certain amount, everything else shouldn’t matter. I think they don’t do a great job there.”
And while McDonough’s firing may soften Morris’ position on the Suns, the 29-year-old will still show up playing with an edginess about his game that the Celtics need.
“I’m letting my game do the talking,” Morris said.
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