NEW YORK, United States – Boston Celtics forward Marcus Morris drew a lot of flak when he said he’s the second-best player to defend LeBron James.
But Morris backed up the talk as he led a swarming defensive effort that shut down James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on the way to the Boston Celtics’ lopsided victory, 108-83, in the opening game of the NBA Eastern Conference finals on Sunday, May 13.
“It was a team effort,” Morris said. “Everybody played their part in guarding him. We did a great job of that.”
Before the series, Morris had boasted he’s the best defender to guard James next to San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard.
True enough, Morris led the hustling work that contained the 33-year-old Cleveland superstar, who has more career playoff appearances than the entire Celtics roster combined.
James finished with 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting with 7 rebounds and 9 assists. He blocked two shots but also made 7 turnovers as the Cavaliers missed their first 14 3-point attempts and came no closer than 14 points in the second half.
Morris had 18 points and 11 rebounds for Boston while containing James, who averaged 34 points, 9.4 rebounds and 9.0 assists in prior playoff games.
Marcus Morris on the chance to defend LeBron James in playoffs after getting a taste a couple years ago in Detroit: "I’m a little older, a little more experienced. Personally, I think I’m probably the best guy defending him in the league, outside of Kawhi."— Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) May 12, 2018
The Celtics forced James to work harder defensively as well.
”They showed two bodies (against James) all night,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “When he thought he had driving lanes, they made him kick it out to other shooters.
“We didn’t play well. We know we have to play better. They attacked us early on. We had some great shots we couldn’t make and it snowballed from there.”
Kevin Love led Cleveland with 17 points and added 8 rebounds. Tristan Thompson had a game-high 11 rebounds off the Cavs’ bench. Jayson Tatum added 16 for Boston and Terry Rozier had eight points and seven assists.
Talented 20-something players Tatum, Rozier and Brown have filled the void left by injured stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, combining with Horford – who has been eliminated by James four times in the playoffs – to out-hustle and dominate.
“Our young guys are special. They have been showing it all year,” Morris said. “Their mentality, the way they carry themselves, is like veterans in this league. It’s very unfortunate we had those injuries but no one is going to feel sorry for us. Other guys got the opportunity. We’ve had to step up.”
Boston surged ahead 61-35, the biggest half-time playoff deficit of James’s career. Cleveland pulled within 78-64 entering the fourth quarter, but Boston answered with an 18-4 spurt that sealed Cleveland’s fate.
“We’ve got a lot of room to improve,” Stevens said. “We got stagnant in their third quarter run. We’re very aware we will get a heavyweight punch Tuesday.” –Rappler.com
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