BOSTON — If you felt a strange disturbance in the force on Saturday that was probably the collective cringe let out by Celtics Nation when Marcus Morris poked the proverbial bear.
“Personally, I think I’m probably the best guy defending him in the league, outside of Kahwi Leonard,” said Morris at Saturday’s practice in Waltham.
The him in that sentence referred of course to LeBron James. Morris went on to acknowledge that no one man can stop LeBron and all that other good stuff but, too late. Bulletin board material provided. Gauntlet thrown down.
And then true to his word Morris went out and did exactly what he said he would do. The Celtics forward started the game in place of Aron Baynes and matched up with LeBron. He didn’t shut him down but he – and the rest of the Celtics – made King James work for everything he got – which wasn’t much.
LeBron when guarded by Marcus Morris in Game 1:— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) May 13, 2018
1 TO pic.twitter.com/pHRUv3XIfN
James finished with 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting. He also committed seven turnovers and finished the night a minus 32 in the Celtics 108-83 blowout Game 1 victory. That’s as close to shutting down LeBron James as you can get.
“I’m a competitor,” Morris said. “He’s the best player, you know? I”m going to be able to tell my kids one day. It’s exciting. I love the challenge.”
Marcus Morris to everybody who clowned him about guarding Lebron:— SauzeGawd (@sauzegawd) May 13, 2018
“is this your King!?” pic.twitter.com/zUhkn3a4Oo
After the game James got testy at times with reporters, refusing to give full credit to Morris. James said he typically uses Game 1 as a “feel out” opportunity and didn’t seem overly concerned with how the Cavaliers will bounce back in game 2.
“I have zero level of concern at this stage,” James said. “I didn’t go to college. This isn’t March Madness. I’ve been down 0-1, I’ve been down 0-2.”
As for Morris, he did his talking on and off the court. Not only checking LeBron on the defensive end but also adding 21 points and 10 boards of his own. And if it wasn’t clear to everyone prior to Game 1 of the Conference Finals, Morris and the rest of his teammates fear no one. Not even the King himself.
“Our confidence is very high,” Morris said. “The younger guys to the older guys, we think we can compete and play with anybody. At the end of the day, all the talking done off the court. Once we step between them lines, we have to compete no matter who we have out there, and that’s what we’ve been doing.”
This column was prepared by John Zannis for CLNS Media and CelticsBlog.