BOSTON – When the Boston Celtics acquired Marcus Morris via trade from Detroit, the thinking at the time was that he could provide some much-needed scoring punch off the bench.
Injuries have forced Celtics head coach Brad Stevens to at times insert him in the starting lineup.
But as we saw on Thursday, Morris’ value as a point-producer off the bench can’t be overlooked.
Because Morris’ scoring at the start of the fourth quarter would prove vital to Boston holding off a pesky Sixers team, 108-97.
The Celtics (19-4) add one more victory to the best record in the NBA and just as important, getting back on a winning track after losing by 10 points to Detroit on Monday.
Following the loss to the Pistons, players talked about the importance of learning from the Detroit loss and understanding that because of their record, teams are going to play some of their best basketball of the season when they see that Green and White on the floor.
With that mind, the Celtics played a much better, more complete game against the Sixers (12-9) who were coming off a 118-113 win over Washington less than 24 hours earlier.
Indeed, several Celtics stepped up on Thursday including Morris who finished with 17 points which was one-point shy of matching his season high with the Celtics.
With Morris setting the tone by scoring Boston’s first five points of the fourth, the Celtics settled on a familiar scorer down the stretch to carry them to victory – Kyrie Irving.
Irving finished with a game-high 36 points, nine of which came in the fourth quarter.
Even with Joel Embiid back in Philly due to what the team refers to as “load management,” the Sixers didn’t waste any time jumping on the Celtics with a 9-2 run to start the game.
But the Celtics bounced back with a pair of 3’s that led to Sixers coach Brett Brown calling a timeout.
Boston gradually took over and ended the first quarter with a 28-22 lead, with the 1-2 punch of Al Horford and Kyrie Irving who had 10 and 11 points, respectively. Horford had a near double-double, scoring 21 points while grabbing eight rebounds along with dishing out five assists.
In the second quarter, Boston was able to maintain a similar lead to what they had to end the first.
But the Sixers went on a 7-2 run that cut Boston’s lead to 43-41, only for the Celtics to counter with a 3-point play by Irving that made it a 46-41 game with less two minutes play.
From there, Boston closed out the second quarter with an 8-3 spurt to lead 54-44 at the half.
Philadelphia chipped away at Boston’s lead, and eventually went ahead 67-65 behind a 23-9 run.
But as we had seen most of the night, the Celtics met Philly’s surge with one of their own. True to form, the Celtics finished the third quarter with an 11-4 run to lead 76-71 going into the fourth and remained in front for the rest of the game.