Celtics

Celtics

BOSTON – There was a point in Thursday’s game against Houston when Brad Stevens was ready to insert Marcus Morris into the game, but there was a problem.

He had no idea where Morris was at the time, only to discover moments later that he was on a nearby stationary bike, trying to stay loose for whenever Stevens calls upon him.

Establishing a role that both Morris and the Celtics can lean on, has not been easy this season with Morris’ sore left knee issues that have kept him sidelined for long stretches only to return and play well, and then back to the bench for extended stretches due to the return soreness to the knee.

Barring an unexpected setback, Morris will be on the floor tonight as the Celtics try to close out the 2017 calendar year with a win at home against the Brooklyn Nets.

Stevens acknowledged Morris’ situation is “super frustrating,” especially for Morris who has missed 21 games this season with Boston after the Celtics traded for him on July 7.

In his five seasons prior to being in Boston, Morris missed a total of just 11 games.

The way he played in Boston’s 99-98 win over Houston on Thursday was in many ways a microcosm of sorts as to how things have gone thus far in Boston.

Morris got off to a slow start, prompting some Celtics fans in the stands to wish he sat out the game to spend more time resting his knee.

 

But Morris seemed to get better as the game progressed, finishing with 10 points but maybe more important, delivering a tough, gritty style of play that Boston desperately needed as they mounted one of the greatest comebacks in franchise history while also being praised by Stevens afterwards for his contributions to the victory.

“They had us on our heels,” Stevens said after the win. “We tried to be more aggressive defensively; I thought Marcus [Morris] was the key to that, kind of the head of that attack.”

And when it came time to get him out of the game due to his minutes restriction (high-teens), you could tell both Morris and Stevens were disappointed because there was no denying the nice rhythm, especially shooting the ball, that Morris was in as he made his way back to the bench.

“That’s definitely the toughest thing,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “I might hit four or five straight and my time might be up, so I gotta go. It’s tough to play because you’re trying to do a lot in a short amount of minutes.”

Stevens added, “his last stint (versus Houston) was really good. We need him to score; we need him to be aggressive. We need him to be able to guard multiple positions. I thought he did a lot of that, third and fourth quarters.”

Here’s a look at five under-the-radar story lines heading into the final game of the 2017 calendar year for the Boston Celtics as they host the Brooklyn Nets.

TYLER ZELLER

Jonas Jerebko. Kelly Olynyk. Avery Bradley. All three were with the Celtics last season, and played some of their best basketball when they faced Boston a year after their departure. Will Tyler Zeller be the latest member of the Celtics’ revenge tour? He’ll certainly get a chance to be. Zeller will be making his 20th start of the season with Brooklyn, after making just eight starts over the last two seasons with the Celtics. He is averaging 8.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.

JAHLIL OKAFOR

When the Nets acquired him via trade from Philadelphia, the initial thinking was that he could play with a rebuilding team and work his way into a meaningful role. But the Nets soon found out what many were suspecting regarding Okafor and that was his conditioning not being where it needs to be. That’s why he has only played one game for Brooklyn thus far, and three games total this season.

DEFEND THE CORNER 3

The Boston Celtics have been among the best teams defensively all season, and have a defensive rating of 100.8 which is tops in the league. However, defending corner 3’s has not been one of the Celtics’ strengths this season. In fact, opponents are shooting 43.8 percent on corner 3’s against Boston which ranks 27th in the NBA.

ON THE LINE

Boston opponents have gone to the free throw line more than the Celtics in 11 of the last 12 games, and tonight likely won’t be any different. Boston faces a Brooklyn team that is averaging 24.6 free throws per game which ranks fourth in the league. The Celtics average 21.8 free throw attempts which ranks 18th in the league.

 

KEEPIN’ IT (UNDER) 100

Boston has shown it can score in bunches at times, but the smoothest path towards victory has been of the low-scoring variety. The Celtics have an impressive 21-1 record this season when opponents score 99 points or less against them. Boston’s lone loss this season to an opponent who scored less than 100 points was to Miami which handed Boston a 90-89 defeat on Dec. 20.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE