BOSTON -- Marcus Morris was dressed and ready to leave the Celtics locker room when he checked with a member of the team’s media relations staff to see if anyone had requested an interview with him.
Initially, the answer was no, but like most of this season when it comes to Morris, things changed quickly.
Like his role on this team, one that has gone from uncertainty to becoming undeniably important to Boston’s surge towards the Eastern Conference mountaintop.
And in the 135-108 win over Indiana, Morris delivered yet another gem by leading all Celtics with 22 points on a head-scratching 6-for-8 shooting night.
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It’s getting to the point where Morris’ impressive performances aren’t so impressive anymore but rather a given, based on how he has performed all season.
“He’s been in a good rhythm all year,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “He’s the one we’ve talked about, right from the get-go was very comfortable with what he was going to do best and how it was going to fit in with us, whether he was starting or coming off the bench. A lot of other guys found their way but he’s been consistent with that.”
Morris has been having a career-best season as well, with career highs in scoring (15.4) and rebounds (5.9) in addition to shooting from the field (50 percent), 3-point range (44.6 percent) and the free throw line (88.2 percent)
And his offensive rating as a starter is 120.2, which leads all NBA players with at least 15 starts this season (side note: Marcus Smart is fourth on that list with an offensive rating of 117.2).
Not bad for a guy without a role at the start of the season.
Celtics guard Kyrie Irving said the key to Morris’ emergence has been the fact that he’s out there playing instead of on the sideline nursing an injury.
“He’s healthy,” Irving said. “You really get to see what he adds in terms of his dynamic of being a four-man (power forward). Most of the time he has mismatches; he’s a three-man [small forward] playing the four. Most four-men can’t stay in front of him. Most of the game, it’s a mismatch.”
Morris’ ability to recognize those mismatches and his teammates’ willingness to get him the ball in those situations has been a tremendous boost for the Celtics, as well as Morris’ confidence which has always been high when it comes to his ability to play.
The difference now?
He’s getting the playing time to prove it on a night-in, night-out basis.
And playing time was far from a given prior to the start of training camp.
Gordon Hayward was coming back into the fold after missing all but the first five minutes of last season due to a left ankle/leg injury. Jayson Tatum had emerged as a star-on-the-rise as a rookie and would certainly be positioned for bigger and better things this season. And then there was Jaylen Brown, the team’s No. 2 scorer a year ago who, like Tatum, seemed poised to take his game to another level.
Morris remembers seeing something on social media asking whether there would be enough space for Morris.
“There’s always space for a dog,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “I’m a dog; I’ll figure it out; I always do.”
In the offseason, Morris said his workouts were centered around three important factors that he believed would determine whether he saw playing time or not.
BETTER FLEXIBILITY OFFENSIVELY
This would allow him to do a better job of exploiting mismatches offensively. When defended by a smaller player, he could use his strength and bully-ball him. When the defender is bigger he relies on using his dribble to create space or mix in a dribble-drive to the basket.
He knows how important the 3-point shot is to a Stevens-coached team, so there was a lot of time spent working on his 3-point shot from various spots to strengthen up where he felt most comfortable behind the arc. And the result has been Morris making a career-best 44.6 percent of his 3’s this season.
Morris says he isn’t where he would want to be defensively, but his strong play offensively has left him with a plus/minus of +9.5. which is fourth on the team among players logging at least 15 minutes per game.
Indeed, Morris’ strong play has been critical to the performances of several Celtics this season.
Morris’ timing for a breakout season could not be any better, with him becoming an unrestricted free agent this summer.
He has delivered the kind of play this season that all but assures him of a major payday come July.
But he’s a competitor; a competitor who hasn’t been in a situation like the one he's in Boston for as long as he has been in the NBA.
Teams he played for in the past were hopeful to maybe, just maybe, squeak into the playoffs.
In Boston, the focus has been on steady improvement towards winning a championship.
“That’s all I care about; winning,” Morris said. “That other stuff, the big-money contract, being in the conversation for All-Star, none of that happens if you’re not winning. So for me, that’s what all this is about, keeping finding ways to win.”
Irving understands all too well what that journey looks like.
Before LeBron James came on the scene for a second tour of duty in Cleveland, the Cavs were one of the league’s worst teams with Irving as their leader.
So having that in common, along with being in the same draft class (Irving went No. 1 overall in 2011 while Morris was selected 13 picks later) have helped strengthen the bond that exists between arguably Boston’s two most consistent players this season.
“We came in at the same time,” Irving said of their arrival in Boston. “We have an understanding of where our journeys started and where it is now and an appreciation of where we are now; just want to take full advantage of it and finish it.”
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