Celtics

Marcus Morris: All-Star talk, fat new contract, "none of that happens if you're not winning"

Marcus Morris: All-Star talk, fat new contract, "none of that happens if you're not winning"

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. 

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.

THE 3-BALL
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. 

IMPROVING DEFENDER
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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Escape route: Celtics' Marcus Morris and Brad Wanamaker escape mean streets of Philly in getting to NBA

Escape route: Celtics' Marcus Morris and Brad Wanamaker escape mean streets of Philly in getting to NBA

When it comes to speaking the truth, Marcus Morris is about as straight-no-chaser as they come. 

So as Boston gears up to face his hometown Philadelphia 76ers tonight, it’s an ideal time to reflect upon how far the North Philly native has come from THE humble surroundings that could have easily derailed his promising basketball career, as it did so many young men he grew up with at that time. 

“I have a lot of friends that did time in jail at a young age; 17, 18 years old and did five, six years and came home as a grown up,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston.

Those times have helped shape Morris’ outlook on life both on and off the court, forging a level of mental toughness in him that has allowed him to easily shrug off rough basketball nights while not getting too elated over good ones. 

“Basketball has been amazing,” Morris said. “Basketball gave me a platform to go back to the youth and show that it’s possible; it’s possible.”

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He’s hoping those amazing times will only get better with the Celtics looking to close out the regular season strong.

Tonight's game would indeed be another step in that direction as they attempt to sweep the season series from Philadelphia for the third time in the last four years.

While such dominance makes talk of a rivalry difficult to palate, Boston guard Brad Wanamaker knows it's always special whenever these two Eastern Conference foes hook up. 

Like Morris, Wanamaker is also from North Philly.  And like Morris, basketball became his escape from troubled surroundings as well. 

Crime. Drugs. Violence. Wanamaker had seen it all at a young age.

“My family . . . they were heavy in the drug game,” Wanamaker told NBC Sports Boston.

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But that all changed courtesy of his older brother, James Samuel. 

“My older brother was the first one that I really saw that had a job; like a 9-5 job. That was like a positive in my life. My twin brother (Brian) and my sisters (Crystal and Latisha),  we used him as our role model in a way that . . . we don’t have to go down that other path.”

For Wanamaker, the path towards success involved playing basketball. 

After a standout career at Philadelphia’s Roman Catholic High School, Wanamaker went on to the University of Pittsburgh, where he established himself as one of the Big East's top players along with being an honorable mention All-American. 

But the NBA wasn't sold on his talent and he went undrafted in 2011. 

He would eventually take his talents overseas where he found tremendous success, racking up championships and MVP honors in the process. 

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Still clinging to his dream of playing in the NBA, the 29-year-old Wanamaker spoke about how those tough times as a youth, the prospect of not being drafted and now being on an NBA roster but playing sparingly, has tested his mental resolve in ways he would have never dreamed of before. 

“It’s the toughest [expletive] I’ve had to deal with in my life,” Wanamaker, referring to not playing much for the Celtics, told NBC Sports Boston. “Basketball is my escape from everything.”

This season, Wanamaker has appeared in 30 games for Boston, averaging 3.4 points and 1.3 assists while shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 50 percent on 3's in 8.7 minutes per game. 

However, having seen and lived through some of the many challenges that kids who grow up in North Philly endure, Wanamaker isn’t tripping at all about not playing more. 

“I’ve seen a lot worse than not playing in a basketball game,” he said. 

And whenever he’s feeling down about his lack of playing time, Morris is often the first to cheer him up or, at a minimum, reminisce about their days playing together on the same AAU team.

Back then, they were playing to win for their team and showcase what they could do as players. These days, both acknowledge that they play the game for something bigger than their own personal agenda.

"There's so few of us in the NBA from Philadelphia, every time I step on the floor I gotta represent," Morris said in a separate interview with NBC Sports Boston.

Wanamaker echoed a similar sentiment.

“Not only am I playing for myself, but I’m playing for my family back home,” Wanamaker said. “My family back home and a lot of my homies who picked up the game and didn’t make it this far. I always tell people all the time, it’s bigger than me. I put the work in day-in, day out, to try and keep working to get out on the court. But I’m doing this for more than just me; I never forget that, never.”

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What advice did Celtics' Jayson Tatum give the Kings' De'Aaron Fox?

What advice did Celtics' Jayson Tatum give the Kings' De'Aaron Fox?

Jayson Tatum has found both individual and team success early in his NBA career. The Celtics forward was third in rookie of the year voting last season and his team reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

So, with one playoff run under his belt, he's passing on advice that an NBA postseason is a different animal to the Sacramento Kings' De'Aaron Fox, a player whose team - until a recent slump - was hoping to snag the final Western Conference spot and get him his first taste of the playoffs.

On the "Road Trippin'" podcast with ex-NBAer Doug Christie, now a Kings broadcaster, Fox, selected two picks after Tatum at fifth overall out of Kentucky in 2017 by Sacramento, said his fellow 21-year-old imparted his playoff wisdom while the two were on a tour of China last summer with Nike.

"All these old cats saying, 'Oh the playoffs is night and day. It's not the same,' " Fox said. "And I'm like, 'yeah, whatever.' But now that I have a peer that went through it, he's like, 'Man, playoffs is crazy.' And he went to Game 7, conference finals! He's like, 'the playoffs and regular season, it's NOT the same." 

Here's a clip via uninterrupted.com: 

It appears Fox may have to wait at least another season to see the difference after the Kings (34-35) have dropped seven of their past 10 and began Tuesday six games behind the Clippers for the eighth spot in the West.

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