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