Marcus Morris said he defends LeBron James as well as virtually anyone in the NBA, and he came through on Sunday.
With five guys on the floor at any time who work together as a cohesive unit, the Boston Celtics are one of the defensive teams in the NBA. Heading into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Celtics forward Marcus Morris asserted he was the “best guy” at defending LeBron James in the entire league, at least this side of Kawhi Leonard.
The Celtics dominated the Cleveland Cavaliers 108-83 on Sunday, to take a 1-0 series lead, as James scored just 15 points on 5-for-16 from the floor (0-for-5 from beyond the arc) with seven turnovers. Morris started the game, and he finished with 21 points (3-for-4 from beyond the arc) with 10 rebounds as the Celtics were plus-25 when he was on the floor. He deferred to a total team effort in shutting James down when talking to the media postgame, and it surely was, but Morris absolutely did his part when matched up individually against the best player in the league.
Morris, listed at 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds, measures out similarly to James (6-foot-8, 250 pounds) even if they aren’t in the same stratosphere athletically. There is some history of Morris’ ability to keep LeBron in check, backed up by stats even before Sunday’s game.
Without a Herculean effort from James game-in and game-out, this edition of the Cavaliers simply doesn’t function. He almost registered a triple-double on Sunday, with nine assists and seven rebounds, but his shooting percentage was abysmal and his seven turnovers were a clear game-high.
Boston’s successful defensive formula in Game 1 will evolve with some adjustments and tweaks going forward. But Brad Stevens should also keep some of what works, and Morris matched up on James is proven to do just that.