By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — After making a strong move to the basket that resulted in a three-point play, Celtics forward Marcus Morris let out a wild battle cry that was likely mistaken for thunder as far as Worcester.
It was one of the key plays in Boston’s 107-94 comeback win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, tying the game at 69-69 with 5:14 to go in the third quarter. His scream, just inches from the face of Cavs big man Tristan Thompson, quickly became an internet meme. More importantly, it was a rallying cry for the Celtics.
Morris said he simply yelled “And One!” as he stared down Thompson, his eyes barely remaining in their sockets. But from the look on his face, the message was clear: The Celtics were not messing around anymore.
“Strong move from a strong dude, man,” Morris said of the play after Tuesday night’s victory.
The Celtics outscored the Cavaliers 36-22 in the third quarter, with Morris’ emphatic basket and majestic song the final jolt that Boston needed to take their game to the next level. They fought valiantly during a LeBron James firestorm in the first half, but trailed by seven at the break. With Morris’ basket, that halftime deficit was erased, and a few minutes later, the Celtics took a lead that they would not relinquish on their way to a 2-0 series lead.
Simply put, Marcus Morris is a maniac. But in Boston, he’s our maniac, which makes it A-OK. It helps that Morris isn’t the only one on the Celtics roster who is a bit out there (it must have something with the name Marcus), but the six-year veteran is the right kind of crazy for this Celtics team, a squad that never quits and doesn’t back down from any fight. That is Morris in a nutshell. He’s the guy you love if he’s on your team, but love to hate if he’s wearing a different uniform. The kind of players the Cavaliers would love to have on their roster right now.
But he’s on the Celtics, and he’s making plays on both ends of the floor as Boston looks to complete their improbable run to the NBA Finals. Despite the 42 points from James on Tuesday, Morris continued to play solid defense on the NBA’s most gifted player. Even as James scored 21 points in the first quarter, tallying 25 by halftime, Morris wasn’t going to just roll over. As James piled up the points, Morris kept muscling the king into tough looks. The fact that he was making those baskets didn’t deter Morris.
“My mindset? Cool,” Morris said of his psyche during LeBron’s show in the first half. “I was very, very, very happy with the defense we were playing on him. He wasn’t getting easy layups, he was fading from three, all fadeaways. He’s a great player but we have to live with those shots.
“It’s the easy ones we have to take away; we expect him to make something and he did a great job at it, but at the end of the day we won,” Morris added.
It’s been more than just Morris on James this series, because it takes more than one player to make him truly work for his points. But at 6-foot-9 and nearly 240 pounds, Morris is the ideal candidate to hound James and make life difficult for a generational player. It isn’t always a beautiful sight to see, but Morris’ physicality on James, one giant body crashing into another, is quite the show. It’s earned him praise from head coach Brad Stevens and his teammates alike.
As the Celtics erased their deficit and took a hold of Game 2, James again became passive. He stopped driving to the hoop. He settled for more fadeaways and deep attempts. Those shots he hit in the first half stopped falling in the second, and the Cavaliers didn’t stand a chance against Boston’s tidal wave of emotion. A lot of that was thanks to Morris, who was brought in over the offseason for this very reason.
When the Celtics swung a deal to acquire Morris from the Pistons, sending guard Avery Bradley to Detroit in order to clear cap space for Gordon Hayward’s max contract, it was disappointing to see Bradley go. But after the Celtics were swept by James and the Cavaliers in last year’s Eastern Conference finals, it was clear they needed someone to body up on LeBron. Morris has had success at that throughout his career, and now he’s doing it on an even bigger stage.
Whether he’s battling with James anywhere on the floor or screaming in his opponent’s face, Morris has just the kind of wild flair for the underdog Celtics. Cleveland head coach Ty Lue alluded to the Celtics “gooning it up” during Game 2, which caught Morris by surprise.
“Gooning? That’s a good word,” he said with a smirk. “[Shoot], we’re doing what it takes. Every player 1-15. Call it what you want to call it, but we’re trying to get the win.”
Morris said it’s just the Celtics’ unwillingness to back down. They may be physical, but they aren’t going to be dumb and get thrown out of a game. His crazy is right on the line, but doesn’t go over. It’s not the “shove a guy jumping in the air” kind of lunacy you see from others. It’s an important balance, because Morris knows there are much bigger things on the line over the next week.
“Job is not finished; 2-0 means nothing. We still have to win,” he said. “We’re not complacent and not happy with 2-0. We want to win the series, bottom line.”