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Marcus Morris wanted the challenge, was tasked with the challenge and for one game, anyway, he conquered the challenge.
That being trying to check the best player on the planet, LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, in the Eastern Conference Finals.
After James was limited to 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting and committing seven turnovers in a 108-83 Boston win in Game 1, Smart made it a point to credit his teammates for helping on James, whom he guarded on 39 possessions according to Spectrum numbers.
“It’s a team effort, man, it’s not just me,” Morris said postgame. “Everybody played their part in guarding him. He’s obviously the best player in the game, and you need multiple guys and a team to guard him an entire game. I just think we did a great job of that.”
Morris, as is his trademark, didn’t give an inch against James, who came into the game averaging 34 points and not having scored less than 22 points in the first 11 games of this postseason.
“I’m a competitor,” Morris said. “He’s the best player, you know? I”m going to be able to tell my kids [about defending James] one day. It’s exciting. I love the challenge but, like I said, man, it’s a team effort.”
Morris’ work against him did not go unnoticed by James.
“I thought they had great game plan Game 1,” James said of the Celtics. “[Morris] was the start of it. He was my matchup and I think they did a great job of communicating throughout the whole game, knowing where I was and knowing where our teammates was.
“[Celtics coach] Brad [Stevens] and the coaching staff did a great job in Game 1. You commend that. We have an opportunity to look at a lot of film tomorrow, and see ways they were making us uncomfortable, making myself off balance and not have a rhythm all game. So we’ll be much better in Game 2.”
Boston point guard Terry Rozier, filling in for the injured Kyrie Irving (left knee), said the Celtics were spurred by the way Morris embraced the challenge of checking James.
“It’s not easy guarding LeBron but he likes that challenge,” Rozier said. “That’s something with a guy who likes that challenge, you throw him out there and put him up against him.
“That’s what he did. He took on the challenge and made him work on defense, too. It was just good to have him out there, another dog out there with us. He did a lot of good things.”
Even as the Celtics play without not only Irving, but also Gordon Hayward (ankle) and Daniel Theis (knee), the remain steadfast in their belief they are up for the challenge of trying to take down James the three-time defending conference champion Cavaliers.
“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.”