Celtics

Morris steps up as leader for injury-ridden Celtics

Morris steps up as leader for injury-ridden Celtics

BOSTON -- Wednesday’s game against Washington was as different kind of game as we’ve seen in the past involving Marcus Morris. 

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Injuries left coach Brad Stevens little choice but to insert the 6-foot-9 Morris into the starting lineup. 

We’ve seen him star with Boston’s second unit, but with the first group on Wednesday Morris found himself in unfamiliar territory as the team’s go-to performer ... all game.

And the veteran forward didn’t disappoint, scoring a season-high 31 points. 

However, Morris’ strong night was not enough for Boston to get the win as the Celtics went down 125-124 in double overtime.

With every starter out except for Jayson Tatum, Boston needed someone to step up and be a leader offensively for the team. 

That player was Morris, who had said earlier this week that he wanted to be more of a leader knowing so many key performers like Kyrie Irving (knee soreness), Jaylen Brown (concussion) and Marcus Smart (right thumb) were going to be out for multiple games this week. 

Stevens acknowledged before the game that he would have to change up a few things to give the new-look Celtics the best shot at being successful. 

Among the changes was to make Morris more of a centerpiece of the offense. 

“I thought tonight that Marcus would have to go for close to 35-40 (points) for us to win,” Stevens said. “Because of the way that we were going to play. We were going to play him at the three (small forward), we were going to post him a lot, we were going to go to him a lot in a lot of different scenarios, and he gave us almost that which his pretty impressive. He’s playing at a good level.”

But as much as the Celtics leaned on his scoring, Morris has proven himself to be a better-than-average defender as well. 

However, he made a defensive gaffe in the closing seconds of regulation that was just the first of many late-game mistakes by the Celtics that ultimately wound up costing the game. 

With Boston ahead by 106-103 with five seconds to play in the fourth quarter, Otto Porter Jr. drove into the lane and Morris slid towards him (out of instinct, I’d imagine) which led to Porter Jr. kicking the ball out to a wide-open Jodie Meeks who drained a game-tying 3-pointer that forced overtime. 

“Me being a veteran I think I put that on me for just committing to the ball, knowing that they needed a 3 and they kicked it out and made a great play," Morris said. "That was my bad.”

But let’s be clear. 

There wasn’t a soul in that Celtics locker room blaming Morris for the loss, a game that Boston was well-positioned to win in large part because of his play. 

“Just one of those plays that I know Marcus would like to have back,” Stevens said. “You know, at the end of the day, when we came out of the time-out (with five seconds remaining), we wanted to be five guys around the three-point line. And you don’t want to give them just an easy-entry lay-up. But I think we did a pretty good job initially, and then we should’ve just let Porter lay it in. But that happens, and Marcus was one of the main reasons why we were there, and it happens. We wouldn’t have been there without him.”

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And the fact that Morris owned his mistake speaks to the level of accountability he has as one of the leaders on this team, something that becomes even more vital with veterans like Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart and Al Horford all out tonight and at least with Irving and Smart, out for the foreseeable future. 

“I knew I definitely had to be a leader for the guys, but like I said, I expect a lot out of them and they expect a lot out of themselves,” Morris said. “I just had a couple words for them, but they’re growing up every game. (Jayson) Tatum just turned 20 and he’s playing like a bear. T-Ro (Terry Rozier) has got a lot of respect in the league so I could just give them little tips, but those guys are growing up to (be) NBA guys and they can play.”

And so can Morris, especially when called upon to be the team's go-to guy offensively. 

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WATCH: Kyrie Irving mic'up for Rising Stars Challenge

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USA TODAY Sports Images

WATCH: Kyrie Irving mic'up for Rising Stars Challenge

Boston Celtics superstar Kyrie Irving was coaching the USA team in Friday night's Rising Stars Challenge to close the first night of All-Star Weekend in Charlotte. That included coaching his teammate, Jayson Tatum, who dropped 30 points in the winning effort for the Americans, and dropping some memorable gems during the TNT broadcast.

Asked if he felt some "Red Auerbach vibes" pacing the sideline, Irving joked all that was missing was a cigar. Asked about any coaching pointers, Irving laughed that he was hoping the players got in a defensive stance at least once or twice.

USA went on a run toward the end of Irving's appearance, and that's when he really got going:

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Tatum shines, helps lead Team USA to 161-144 win

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USA TODAY Sports Images

Tatum shines, helps lead Team USA to 161-144 win

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Before the season began, Jayson Tatum was viewed by many on the cusp of being a star.

When you think about how an actual star is formed, the parallels are clear.

Solar system-type stars involve light elements being squeezed under intense pressure.

Jayson Tatum played his best basketball as a Celtic during the playoffs when the pressure to perform was at its apex.

That star-creating pressure creates a nuclear fusion reaction that’s explosive.

☘️ CELTICS AT ALL-STAR WEEKEND

Tatum averaged 18.5 points in the playoffs which included a stretch in which he had 20 or more points in seven straight games.

But the stardom many envisioned for the second-year wing, hasn’t quite materialized how they thought it would.

Tatum has been a very good player this season, improving in a number of critical offensive categories.

But the 6-foot-8 forward has not quite elevated his play to superstar status ... yet.

So does that make his play this season disappointing?

Of course not.

Tatum’s focus and the Celtics’ focus for him has been from the outset, to improve upon last season.

And one of the first steps towards becoming a star in this league, is to become a star from within your own draft class.

Selected with the No. 3 pick in the 2017 NBA draft, Tatum has indeed lived up to the lofty billing his draft status warrant.

Looking at players from his draft class, Tatum stacks up favorably in just about every significant statistical category.

And those skills were on display Friday night in the Mountain Dew Rising Stars Challenge pitting the top first- and second-year players from the USA (Team USA) against the top international first- and second-year players (Team World).

Tatum as you might expect stood out, tallying 30 points on 12-for-24 shooting with nine rebounds, three assists and two steals in Team USA’s 161-144 win.

“Last year I was little nervous,” said Tatum who played in the Rising Stars Challenge as a rookie last season. “This year I wasn’t nervous at all; I knew what to expect.”

Team USA, coached by Celtics star Kyrie Irving, was led by Kyle Kuzma (Los Angeles Lakers) who had 35 points.

The leading scorer for Team World was Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers) who had 28 points on 14-for-17 shooting along with five rebounds and six assists.

While the competitive juices weren’t flowing anywhere close to what you see in an NBA regular season game, Tatum’s final stat line in many ways reflects his place among the top young players in the NBA.

And when you throw in his big-game experience in the playoffs, Tatum’s place among the best and brightest young stars is established.

Tatum has played in more games (138) than anyone from his draft class. And his 3-point shooting (40.6 percent) is also tops among the players he entered the league with in 2017.

In addition, Tatum’s a top-five performer from the 2017 draft class in other key categories such as total minutes played (4,245; second); total points scored (2,068, third); rebounds (767, fifth); and field goal percentage (46.5 percent; fourth).

So Tatum’s place among the top players in the NBA is indeed a work in progress. But games like the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night serve as a reminder that Tatum is on the short list of NBA players with star-on-the-making potential.

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