Marcus Morris was right — at least for a game.
After Morris proclaimed himself the second-best LeBron-stopper in the NBA, Brad Stevens put the Boston Celtics’ forward on LeBron James for most of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Morris had constant help from the rest of his defense. And Morris needed their help at times. But that’s natural when playing against LeBron, who has posted four 40-plus-point games so far this postseason. LeBron finished Game 1 at minus-32, tied for second worst in his playoff career. He also had 15 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in 36 minutes. Ty Lue pulled LeBron with around seven minutes left in the Celtics’ blowout win.
LeBron couldn’t shut Morris up. Instead, Morris shut down LeBron.
Here were Morris’ comments before the game:
“Personally, I think I’m probably the best guy defending him in the league, outside of Kawhi [Leonard],” said Morris.
Morris has been talkative throughout the playoffs. He got chippy with the 76ers (and Joel Embiid in particular). It was hard to take the loquacious Morris too seriously when he dropped that line about defending LeBron.
After all, he was tied for 49th in defensive rating for the regular season (minimum 15 games). Morris is a good defender — his defensive rating has hovered around where it was this season (104.8). But he’s not Kawhi. With LeBron looking hot for most of these playoffs, Morris seemed like he’d be overwhelmed by basketball’s best player.
But LeBron grew frustrated and inefficient, shooting 5-of-16 from the field and 0-of-5 from the 3-point line. He lacked assertiveness, and stopped driving to the net. What’s more, Morris finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 7-of-12 from the field and 3-of-4 from the 3-point line. Morris chipped away on offense with an efficiency that LeBron lacked.
LeBron may have given up — he may have simply been nonplussed. Whatever was happening in LeBron’s head, Morris was there. Thanks largely to Brad Stevens, the Celtics defense was in LeBron’s head to the point where he proved largely ineffective. The rest of the series will depend upon Morris taking up permanent residence up there.