Celtics

Injuries, Morris' play making it hard to stick to minute restriction

Injuries, Morris' play making it hard to stick to minute restriction

BOSTON – The plan all along has been to bring Marcus Morris along at a gradual pace, and slowly but surely increase his minutes.

But that plan is becoming increasingly hard to do for the Boston Celtics.

Injuries to key players for the Celtics has created a greater need to get Morris some extended minutes.

But the bigger factor has been Morris’ play which was instrumental in Boston defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 107-96.

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Morris finished with a season-high 18 points 7-for-15 shooting.

Not only did he score the ball well, but delivered some of the biggest shots of the night for Boston (10-2) which extended its league-best winning streak to 10 games.

In the fourth quarter, Morris hit a short 11-foot jumper and followed that up 21 seconds later with an assist to Marcus Smart for a 3-pointer that put Boston ahead 94-88 with 7:30 to play.

The Lakers could not get any closer for the remainder of the game, one in which Morris capped off the scoring with a fade-away shot with 32.1 seconds to play that would prove to be the final made basket of the night for either team.

It was a much-needed performance by Morris to help the Celtics win, a game that Morris acknowledged afterward had his left knee, the one that had soreness which kept him sidelined for Boston’s first eight games and nine of the 12 this season, in more pain than usual.

“Today was more sore than others,” Morris acknowledged after the win. “My minutes restriction, for the time being I’m playing 22-25 minutes so just trying to see how it responds game-to-game, see if it’ll get better, see if it’ll get worse.”

When asked if the soreness will lead to him taking more time off to rest it, Morris said, “I can’t. As long as nothing’s wrong with it, mentally I won’t allow myself to (miss more games).”

Said Stevens: “We’re still trying to manage his minutes appropriately. He played more (against the Lakers) than he had played in either of the two previous games.”

Stevens said the plan is to slowly increase his minutes, but that was more challenging than he anticipated against the Lakers.

“It was hard to take him out,” Stevens said. “Because he really impacted the game, because he could post when they were playing small.”

He also benefited from playing with Baynes on Wednesday, his former teammate in Detroit.

“Mook (Morris) and I had some good times out there,” said Baynes who had a career-high-tying 21 points. “He hit me in the post. I was just trying to hit him as well. We definitely started out on the right foot. He made a few 3’s, and that’s what he does. When we’re starting to feel comfortable, it’s fun being out there with each other.”

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Blakely: Even with Kawhi in Toronto, Celtics still the team to beat in East

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Blakely: Even with Kawhi in Toronto, Celtics still the team to beat in East

BOSTON -- The Kawhi Leonard saga in San Antonio is nearing an end with reports that the estranged San Antonio star will be traded to the Toronto Raptors for a package centered around the Raptors’ all-time leading scorer, DeMar DeRozan
 
As good as DeRozan has been for the Raptors, acquiring a healthy Kawhi Leonard makes them a better team on several levels. 
 
But that improvement isn’t enough of a power shift to move Boston off the top of the Eastern Conference food chain. 

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Leonard is the best two-way player in the NBA right now, a perennial All-Star when healthy. But his health is one of the many questions out there. He missed all but nine games last season, primarily because of a quad injury. 
 
He's a significant upgrade defensively for the Raptors, which would more than compensate for whatever they lose in terms of offensive punch with DeRozan’s departure. 
 
Toronto's addition of Leonard still doesn’t change the fact that Boston has the deepest roster in the East, headlined by a triumvirate of All-Stars (Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford) with an emerging cast of superstars led by Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum, who finished third in last season’s Rookie of the Year voting. 
 
Throw in a solid bench with strong coaching and a connected front office, and it adds up to a team that has every reason in the world to believe it’ll be the last one standing in the East, regardless of what moves are made by others. 
 
More than anything, Toronto getting Leonard makes the East far more interesting in addition to providing the Celtics with yet another legitimate challenger in the conference. 
 
Philadelphia, by all accounts, looks to be the next best team in the East this season, with Indiana, Milwaukee and the Raptors not too far behind. 
 
Adding Leonard to the mix gives Toronto hope of separating itself from that crowded middle class. But it still leaves the Raptors short of being on the same level as Boston. 

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 For starters, Toronto is adding a player who -- for now, at least -- doesn’t want to be there. 
 
The only assurance they will have is that he’ll be on the roster for this upcoming season. He hits free agency in the summer of 2019 and has reportedly been leaning heavily towards returning to his California roots and playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, who signed LeBron James earlier this month.
 
One of Toronto’s strengths has been the chemistry between DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. There's no guarantee that can replicated by swapping out DeRozan for Leonard. 
 
Also, Toronto has a new coach in longtime assistant Nick Nurse. His strength in the league has been that of a good development coach, which is more in line with a team that's rebuilding rather than one trying to re-tool for another run towards Eastern Conference supremacy. 
 
Regardless of this trade, the Raptors were going to head into this season with lots of questions after getting swept by Cleveland in the second round of the playoffs and then firing Dwayne Casey (who was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year shortly after his dismissal).
 
There’s no denying Leonard’s talent makes a deal like this palatable to many, but the Raptors did more than just trade away a talented player. 

DeRozan was arguably their first star, and at no point in his career did he even hint that he wanted out of Toronto. It was, in fact, just the opposite: DeRozan made it clear, both publicly and privately, that he wanted to spend his entire career with the Raptors. 
 
But that’s not going to happen now. 
 
If Leonard stays healthy and plays at the level we've grown accustomed to seeing him at in the past, the trade makes Toronto a better team on many levels. It certainly closes the gap some between the Raptors and the Celtics.
 
But Boston is still the team to beat in the East, a position that no one trade -- not even one that lands Kawhi Leonard -- is going to change. 

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Report: Spurs poised to trade Kawhi Leonard to Raptors

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Report: Spurs poised to trade Kawhi Leonard to Raptors

Kawhi Leonard wants out of San Antonio and apparently he's getting his wish.

However, he's not too excited about where he's going.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Chris Haynes reported early Wednesday morning that the Spurs "are finalizing a deal [to send Leonard to the Toronto Raptors] in a trade package that includes All-Star DeMar DeRozan." And, according to the report: "Leonard and DeRozan are both aware that an agreement could be imminent, and neither is expressing enthusiasm for the deal, league sources said."

Leonard's well-documented frayed relations with the Spurs led to San Antonio pursuing potential deals for the perennial All-Star, but his desire to sign with the Lakers (or, failing that, the Clippers) as a free agent next offseason depressed the trade market. The Celtics were interested in Leonard -- and, in fact, made an offer to San Antonio at last year's trade deadline -- but, knowing there was more than a good chance he'd be a one-year rental, were reportedly unwilling to part with with any of their key players. Nor were the Sixers, another rumored landing spot for Leonard. According to sources, both Boston and Philly made offers that were built around draft picks and not current talent, which didn't interest the Spurs.

With this rumored deal, San Antonio gets an All-Star who'd be under team control for a while: He has three years and $83 million left on his contract, including an Early Termination Option for the 2020-21 season. And Toronto, which finished with the best record in the East last year but was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs, now muscles its way back into contention for the Eastern Conference title, which was assumed to have become a two-team battle between the Celtics and 76ers.

At least for a year, anyway.

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