Celtics

A healthy Morris helps carry Celtics' scoring load

A healthy Morris helps carry Celtics' scoring load

BOSTON - When the Celtics acquired Marcus Morris, they knew they were adding a player with the reputation of being a good defender who could also get you a bucket or two every now and then.

While his defense has been pretty good, Morris scoring has been the real eye-opener to his game.

Slowed early on by a sore left knee, Morris' minutes have been restriction-free for a couple of weeks.

In that time, he has delivered consistent scoring that sets him apart from any of his teammates not named Kyrie Irving.

With Irving out tonight against the Knicks with a right quad contusion, Morris and the other Celtics will have to pick up the scoring slack.

Morris comes in having scored in double figures in the past eight games, something only Irving has done in that span among the Celtics.

In the past eight games, he has averaged 13.9 points off the bench while shooting 44 percent from the field and 34.1 percent on 3’s along with six rebounds.

Being in better health has certainly helped Morris’ game.

And he says not worrying about his minutes being limited, has also been beneficial.

“Now, I just go out and play,” he told NBC Sports Boston. “I don’t worry or think about anything but helping the team by just playing, and not thinking about, I gotta do this in this amount of minutes or anything like that.”

One of the keys to New York’s win over Boston last month was how the Celtics didn’t have an answer for Michael Beasley, a player Morris would have likely been defending if he were healthy enough to play at that time.

But Morris isn’t one to spend much time dwelling on what happened.

He’s locked into the now.

“I just want to win, man,” he said. “That’s what it has to be about for me and the rest of my teammates. What can I do to help us win?”

Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game between the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks.

TRADE TALKS
It has been relatively quiet on the Celtics front when it comes to possible trades. The one name that’s making the rounds more than any other, is Memphis; Tyreke Evans. The former rookie of the year has arguably been Memphis’ best player this season. The Grizzlies know Evans is a sought-after talent by a number of teams looking to add a multi-positional perimeter player like Evans. With him earning just $3.29 million, the Grizzlies would be looking for a young player as well as a first-round pick in return. Boston has the assets and picks to get a deal done, but the Celtics may hold out and see what the buyout market looks like. A report out of Philadelphia has the Sixers, Celtics and Cavaliers. among several teams who have contacted Memphis about Evans. 

MICHAEL BEASLEY
The Knicks have gotten good production from the 29-year-old who is averaging 12.8 points per game. While this is Kristaps Porzingis’ team, it was Beasley getting ìM-V-P!î chants when these two met at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 21 when Beasley dropped a season-high 32 points on the Celtics. Avoiding a repeat performance will be key for the Celtics.

SHOT-MAKERS, DEFENDERS
The Knicks certainly haven’t won as much as they would have liked to this season, but the problem hasn’t been due to a lack of knocking down shots. New York has shot 47.1 percent from the field this season which ranks seventh in the NBA. Conversely, Boston has allowed opponents to shoot a league-low 43.3 percent from the field.

MAJOR MINUTES, IMPACT DEFENSIVELY
One of the main reasons why Boston’s defense has been so good this season is because the guys who log the most minutes are their best defenders. Looking at players this season that average more than 30 minutes played per game, the Celtics take up the top four spots in defensive rating. Leading the list is Marcus Smart (98.9) followed by Jaylen Brown (99.3), Jayson Tatum (99.4) and Al Horford (100.1).

PAST THREE GAMES
The Celtics have been talking up their play of late as being closer to where they want to be when all is said and done. As we know, this Celtics team digs the long ball. And if you look back on the past three games, no team has gotten more mileage out of it than the Celtics. In the last three games, they have averaged 15.0 made 3’s per game, which is tops among teams over that span of time. They are also shooting 43.3 percent from 3-point range in the past three games, which ranks fifth in the league in that span. 

Five takeaways: When Celtics fall, they can't get up

Five takeaways: When Celtics fall, they can't get up

BOSTON -- All season the Celtics have seemingly been digging basketball graves for themselves, only to rise up and bury their foes.

It worked in the regular season.

In the playoffs?

Not so much.

Those huge deficits early in games have been a big problem for Boston, to the point where it has to be among the chief concerns for the Celtics heading into a pivotal Game 5 matchup on Wednesday.

Cleveland’s 111-102 Game 4 win, which evened the series at two games apiece, was due in large part to the Celtics falling 19 points behind in the first half.

To get down big early provides plenty of time for a comeback, of course. But it also requires a significant amount of energy, effort and timely breaks. And on the road? Against a LeBron James-led team?

That’s not likely to happen.

“We just dug ourselves in a hole in the first half,” said Jaylen Brown. “We came back from 15 and I think the closest we got it to was maybe seven or six. We fought. We played a better game than last time.”

Brown, who had a team-high 25 points in the Game 4 loss, was referring to Boston’s 116-86 beatdown in Game 3.

Certainly disappointed they didn’t get one or both games in Cleveland, coach Brad Stevens anticipated this series would be filled with ups and downs for both teams.

“Anybody that didn’t think this was going to be tough . . . I mean, everything is tough,” Stevens said. “In this deal, it’s a blast to have to grit your teeth, get up off the mat and go after it again. That’s part of it. That’s what makes these guys on both sides special.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 111-102 Game 4 loss.

FIRST QUARTER ROAD WOES

Game 4 was the latest example in the Celtics-get-off-to-bad-starts-on-the-road narrative. They scored just 18 points on 7-for-26 shooting (26.9 percent) in the first quarter, when they missed six of their seven 3-point attemots. Getting off to a better start will go far in Boston’s attempts at regaining the series lead on Wednesday.

TERRY ROZIER

He seems to have exorcised some basketball road demons with a 16-point, 11-assist, 0-turnover performance in Game 4. But Cleveland’s ability to get him switched out on guarding a bigger frontcourt player is a problem. The Celtics has to become more creative scheme-wise to avoid their smallest starter (Rozier) consistently being paired with players several inches taller and several pounds heavier. Part of the problem is Rozier who hasn’t been fighting through those screens as hard he is capable of. It may result in an extra foul or two for Rozier, but two games away from a trip to the NBA Finals? Whatever sacrifice is required, you make it.

JAYSON TATUM

While his numbers in the Eastern Conference Finals have been decent, Tatum hasn't had anything close to the impact against the Cavs that he had in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The biggest missing ingredient is his 3-point shooting. He's averaging 2.5 attempts from 3-point range in this series, but only took two attempts total in Games 3 and 4 -- and missed them both. The Cavs have done a better job defensively, but there are seemingly more possessions in which he’s passing up a good 3-point look to instead attack a team defense whose strength lies in ability to contest shots at the rim. Don’t be surprised to see Tatum freed up more for 3’s in Game 5.

REBOUNDING

The Celtics aren’t expected to win the rebounding fight, but they at least have to keep it closer than they did in Games 3 and 4. In Game 4, Cleveland was a plus-10 (47-37) on the boards, which heavily factored into their decisive 16-7 advantage in second-chance points. Closing this gap will pivotal to Boston’s chances at success on Wednesday.

CELTICS OFFENSE

There’s a lot of talk about Boston’s defense and how it needs to improve going forward. But the Celtics have to do a better job offensively as well; specifically, they need to create more open or lightly contested shot attempts. Cleveland has contested more than 75 percent of Boston’s shot attempts in each of the last two games, compared to contesting less than 70 percent in the first two. Figuring out how to free up more shooters has to be a priority for the Celtics heading into Game 5.

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Jayson Tatum obviously named to All-Rookie first team

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File Photo

Jayson Tatum obviously named to All-Rookie first team

Jayson Tatum was obviously named to the NBA All-Rookie first team, joining fellow great rookie Donovan Mitchell, second-year player Ben Simmons, the good Lakers rookie (not Lonzo Ball) and an actually amazing Chicago Bulls player. 

Tatum, who started all season for the Celtics, becomes the first Celtic since fellow future Hall-of-Famer Paul Pierce to earn first-team rookie honors. He would have been a unanimous choice for the first team were it not for one insane person who gave him a second-team vote, seemingly in favor of Josh Jackson. 

Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic clarified that he was not the Jackson voter.

Tatum and Lauri Markkanen (the awesome Bulls player) were the only top-10 picks in the 2017 draft selected to the first team. Tatum is also the only lottery pick still in the NBA playoffs. He's averaging 18 points a game in the postseason. Markelle Fultz did not play at all during the Celtics' five-game series victory over the 76ers, who could have taken Tatum but took Fultz instead.