Celtics

With spotlight on the other Marcus, Morris quietly proving his value

With spotlight on the other Marcus, Morris quietly proving his value

BOSTON — Midway through Brad Stevens’ seven-minute huddle with reporters before Wednesday’s practice at the Auerbach Center, the Celtics’ coach was asked if Marcus Morris had been the team’s most consistent player this season.

“Yes,” Stevens answered before the reporter could even punctuate his question. And, almost as quickly, another question came flying in and the conversation veered to another topic.


It was perfectly appropriate considering how Morris’ solid play on both ends of the court this season has flown quietly under the radar. On a team with maddening inconsistencies, it’s Morris who has been a bit of a rock with his individual play, providing reliable two-way effort and making an impact in a variety of roles.

Still, he’s not even the most popular Marcus in Boston right now. That honor goes to Marcus Smart, who has been (rightfully) showered with attention for the jolt he gave the Celtics during Monday’s confidence-inspiring win in New Orleans. 

What’s being overshadowed is that Morris, who likewise elevated to a starting role on Monday, had a pretty tangible impact as well while putting up 19 points and a team-high 11 rebounds over 30 minutes. All while being tasked with trying to cool down Nikola Mirotic on the defensive end.

While a pack of reporters crowded around Smart before the Celtics’ off-day practice Wednesday, Morris peacefully navigated his typical pre-practice shooting routine, stopping only to chat and joke with assistant coach — and fellow Philadelphia native — Jerome Allen.

After finishing his shooting drill with a flourish of five consecutive corner 3-pointers, Morris turned to a lone reporter and suggested he was simply trying to give the team some extra energy and extra grit at the start of games.

"I just felt like, the start of the games, we haven’t had that hit-first mentality yet,” said Morris. "And that’s what we’ve been missing.”

Enter two members of the Morris-dubbed B.W.A. — Bench With Attitude — who brought the A with them to the first unit.

“We definitely emphasized [hitting first] more,” said Morris. "Smarty came in there and I came in there, and as a team, we recognized that. So we just tried to do our own part, and play as hard as we could.”

Monday’s starting lineup of Smart, Morris, Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, and Jayson Tatum is now the second most used lineup on the team, having logged a still-meager 52 minutes together. It’s also been one of Boston’s best lineups, owning a plus-25.2 net rating while coupling elite ratings on both offense (121.7) and defense (96.6).

Celtics fans are clamoring for Smart to stay in the starting lineup (Stevens sounds open to the idea but cautioned that Smart’s energy with the second unit has been important, too). Tough decisions loom when Jaylen Brown is healthy again after a hard fall in Dallas (he sat out Monday’s game and did not practice Wednesday) and whenever the Celtics desire to elevate Gordon Hayward back to the starting unit. Stevens has suggested the lineup will remain in flux and he will not overreact to one solid outing, if only because the Celtics have rarely maintained consistency.

Morris was likewise hesitant to make a pitch for any lineup when asked if he wanted to see Monday’s first unit stay together, maybe recognizing that Celtics players need to remain amenable to change until this team figures out how all these puzzle pieces fit best.

"I don’t want to talk too much about [lineups],” said Morris. "We’re just trying to build something. We’re trying to get off to great starts. And we’ll see how it goes.”

And Morris is ready for whatever role he’s thrust into.

"Me, personally, yeah,” said Morris. "I can’t really speak for other guys and how they take other roles but, me personally, I feel like I’ve been doing that my entire career. Wherever I’m put at, I maximize and do the best I can.”

Here’s the thing about Morris, coming into the season it felt like he might eventually end up the odd man out. In the final year of his contract, and the Celtics likely unable to retain him next summer, it felt like any sort of roster logjam might end with the team trading Morris — something that could fetch future assets but also help the Celtics dip below the luxury tax that they are currently on pace to pay.

But Morris has asserted himself as a key contributor at both ends of the floor. Morris’ base stat line is solid: 13.9 points and 6.7 rebounds over 26.4 minutes per game. He's shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 43.2 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, both notably higher than his career averages (43.1 FG% / 36.1 3PT%).

What’s more, Morris is averaging a team-best 1.065 points per play on offense, according to Synergy Sports data. That ranks him in the 81st percentile among all players but narrow to the 100 players with at least 250 possessions finished and Morris is 22nd overall in the NBA in points per play. For sake of comparison among the 100 qualifiers, LeBron James is four spots lower at 1.057 ppp and Anthony Davis is 33rd on that list at 1.046).

Not all the advanced metrics are glitzy for Morris. The Celtics own a net rating of minus-0.2 when he’s on the court, one of only two regulars in the negative (Brown the other at minus-2.3). And Boston’s net rating is plus-5.0 when Morris is on the bench (the team’s defensive rating plummeting to an impossibly low 93.9 in his 490 minutes off the court). 

It means that, while Morris is having a solid individual season, it’s not always translating to team success. But the strong numbers during his floor time with the first unit Monday suggests it might just be a matter of finding the right combinations.

It sort of hammers home the notion that the Celtics have all the individual talent but are still trying to figure out ways to make it work as a group — and do so without the maddening lulls in intensity that have contributed to an 11-10 start. 


For his part, Morris is confident the Celtics might have found a little spark in New Orleans. While players have sometimes been hesitant to get overly excited about a small step forward, Morris thinks Monday served as a blueprint for how to start games on the right foot.

Asked how confident he is the team will build off it, he said, "Very confident. Very confident. We’re in a great mood. We understand what we need to do to get the game started going forward.”

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Celtics-Pelicans Takeaways: NBA suffered massive loss in Kobe Bryant's death

Celtics-Pelicans Takeaways: NBA suffered massive loss in Kobe Bryant's death

The Boston Celtics’ 123-108 loss to New Orleans hurt for sure. 

But the Celtics and the entire basketball world were suffering a much greater pain following the death of Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who were among nine people reportedly killed in a helicopter crash in California on Sunday. 

Several teams honored Bryant’s memory on Sunday, with other franchises looking to do so going forward. 

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said no player will ever wear No. 24 again for the Mavericks. Bryant wore jersey No. 24 and No. 8 during his 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers.

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As for the Celtics, they found themselves in catch-up mode most of the night and went into the half trailing by 20 points. 

Boston was able to cut the deficit in half by the time the game moved on to the fourth quarter. 

But down the stretch, the Pelicans came up with all the big plays at both ends of the floor to secure what would be Zion Williamson’s first victory in a regular season NBA game. 

The loss snapped Boston’s three-game winning streak.

But the truth is, few Celtics fans - or fans in general - were giving much thought to wins and losses on this night. 

Regardless of who won or lost, Bryant’s death sent shockwaves throughout the basketball community that are still being felt and will continue to be felt for some time.

ZION WILLIAMSON

He still didn’t play major minutes, but that didn’t keep him from making a major impact. Williamson, in his third NBA game, tallied a double-double of 21 points and 11 rebounds in just 27 minutes. 

The scary part about Williamson's game is that he’s dominating the action in limited minutes while still learning lots of ins and outs of play. 

As he gets older and matures and better understands how to use his vast array of skills to be impactful, he'll become an even bigger nightmare for foes to deal with. 

KEMBA’S IN-GAME BOUNCEBACK

After a rugged start (zero points, 0-for-6 shooting in the first quarter), Walker bounced back with a strong night that put the Celtics within striking distance in the fourth quarter. 

But Walker couldn’t quite muster up enough big shots in order for the Celtics to get the win, despite leading all scorers with 35 points to go with five rebounds and four assists with two steals and a blocked shot.

The slow start by Walker (he wasn’t the only one struggling early on by the way) was among the factors that forced the Celtics to play from behind most of the night. 

INJURY ROULETTE

Jaylen Brown comes back to the lineup, but Jayson Tatum (groin) and Enes Kanter (hip) remain out. 

Sunday’s game was yet another night of injury roulette for the Celtics who continue to play most games short-handed with the missing player being one of their core, go-to guys. 

It makes it extremely difficult for the Celtics to develop continuity, or determine if a change roster-wise needs to be made.

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Celtics-Pelicans Instant Overreactions: How big of a problem is the C's rebounding?

Celtics-Pelicans Instant Overreactions: How big of a problem is the C's rebounding?

After trailing by 20 points at halftime against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Boston Celtics were able to cut the Pelicans lead to single digits a handful of times in the second half.

But ultimately, they weren't able to overcome the deficit and fell to the Pelicans.

The Celtics got 20+ point outings from Kemba Walker (35), Gordon Hayward (23), and Jaylen Brown (20), but they weren't able to get enough from the rest of the team to stay competitive against Zion Williamson and a rejuvenated-looking Pelicans squad.

Here are three instant overreactions from the C's loss, which drops them to 30-15 on the year.

1. Rebounding is a major issue for the Celtics

Verdict: Overreaction

The Celtics struggled mightily on the glass against the Pelicans. And two defensive possessions showcase that very well.

At one point in the game, Zion Williamson got to the rim and put up a shot. He missed it but kept putting up shots after getting three or four consecutive offensive rebounds. Williamson didn't ultimately get a bucket on the play, but the fact that he had so many chances was certainly a negative.

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And later in the first half, the Pelicans did convert on some of those offensive boards. On one possession, the team, once again, combined to grab three or four consecutive offensive boards and got up multiple shots before Josh Hart made a 3-pointer. It was a demoralizing possession for the Celtics and afforded the Pelicans a chance to continue to extend their already-growing lead.

For the game, the Pelicans had 54 boards while the Celtics just had 37. So on the surface, this would appear to be an issue.

However, there's one big counterpoint. Enes Kanter didn't play in the game. And neither did Jayson Tatum. The duo makes up the Celtics' best rebounding tandem and they combine for 15.1 boards per game. Without them, the Celtics have to play smaller, so that could explain why they struggled against a lanky Pelicans squad.

It's fair to want the Celtics to perform better on the glass. But they're less than a week away from outrebounding the Los Angeles Lakers by 12 when their team was almost fully healthy. They should overcome this issue when Kanter and Tatum are back.

2. Celtics need another scorer off the bench

Verdict: Not an overreaction

Obviously, there's a case to be made that the bench is stronger than they showcased on Sunday night. After all, when Tatum plays, Smart comes off the bench. And Kanter is one of the team's best scorers off the bench.

But still, the Celtics seem to be one contributor short when they have their full rotation available. And when they're not fully healthy, things can get ugly.

The Celtics bench scored just eight total points against the Pelicans. They shot 4-of-10 from the field and made zero of the four 3-point shots they attempted.

While guys like Javonte Green, Grant Williams, and Semi Ojeleye have upside, they haven't yet shown an ability to be consistent and willing scorers night in and night out.

It will be interesting to see if the Celtics try to make any trades before the Feb. 6 trade deadline. They are rumored to have an interest in Washington Wizards stretch-four Davis Bertans, but can they open up a roster spot to make a deal? And at what cost? We'll soon find out.

3. Vincent Poirier should see more playing time as long as Kanter is out

Verdict: Not an overreaction

As mentioned, one of the Celtics' biggest weaknesses in this contest was their inability to rebound. Part of that was their lacking size against a long Pelicans team.

That said, when the team put in Vincent Poirier to try out some new things in the third quarter against the Pelicans, the move paid dividends. Poirier played hard and his size bothered the Pelicans at the rim.

Poirier totaled two points, three boards, and a block in nine minutes of action. And that was huge for the team as they made their comeback push.

Poirier may be an NBA rookie, but he has Euroleague experience and was the league's leading rebounder before coming over to the Celtics. He may not always play perfectly, but in small spurts, he could help the Celtics offset their lacking length as long as Kanter is out.

If Poirier plays 10 minutes or so off the bench, that may help the Celtics have a better presence on the glass and on defense. Brad Stevens should at least consider getting Poirier into the game a bit earlier against the Miami Heat if the C's have issues again under the basket again.

And given that Stevens said Poirier was "excellent" after the contest, it seems likely that he will see more playing time.

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