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New father, Marcus Morris shows poise in big season for himself and Celtics

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DETROIT – I’ve seen Marcus Morris asked multiple times about his displeasure with the Suns. Each time, even years after Phoenix traded him, he answered directly.

Morris never seemed to care about dancing around the edges or holding back on anything. He said what he felt. Grudges weren’t beneath him, which didn’t differentiate him from many. What made Morris exceptional: If he hadn’t moved on, he didn’t pretend as if he did just because that was seen as the “right” thing to do.

But when I asked the Celtics forward about applying lessons from his contract extension with the Suns – which he signed at a discount rate to play with his twin brother, then got traded – to unrestricted free agency next summer, he refrained.

“When it comes time, I’ll let my agent and people that represent me handle all that,” Morris said.

Morris hasn’t completely given up years-old grudges, but the 29-year-old’s worldview has definitely expanded.

He opened up about dealing with anxiety. He became a father in July. He looks to be in greater control on the court.

And he’s making sure it all ties together.

After naming his son Marcus Morris Jr., the new dad changed the name on the back of his jersey to “Morris Sr.” The only player in the league with that suffix on his uniform, Morris said he does it to remind himself of his fatherly pride when he puts on his jersey and to one day show his son how he honored him.

“I grew up without a father,” Morris said. “So having him brought a lot of joy and kind of filled a missing a void that I had in my life.”

Morris didn’t want to get into his contract-year status during the season, but he told Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald before the season, “This year is a big opportunity for me, coming up on my contract year, make sure my family is stable. … Now I’m having a contract year for somebody. I can take care of his kids, and his kids — let the Morris name go on.”

On the court, Morris is off to a swell start. He’s averaging 14.3 points, shooting 52% on 2-pointers and 48% on 3-pointers, with 7.2 rebounds per game. That hot shooting from deep probably isn’t sustainable, but Morris has stepped up while his team’s offense has lagged.

Boston is 4-2 despite ranking 27th in points per possession. That’s the product of a league-best defense and Morris doing just enough offensively to keep the Celtics afloat. His combination of usage percentage (21.3) and true shooting percentage (65.7) rises well above Boston’s other top players’ (axes represent league average):

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The 6-foot-9 Morris just finds mismatches and attacks them. Sometimes, it’s that simple.

“He can post smalls. He can stretch bigs,” Stevens said. “He’s a tough guy to guard.”

Conversely and importantly, he has the versatility to defend both smalls and bigs.

“He’s a great fit for how we play,” Stevens said.

Really, he’s a great fit for how every team plays. Who couldn’t use a two-way forward who stretches the court and defends multiple positions, let alone one who also possesses other all-around skills like Morris?

If there’s any team, it’s Boston, which also has two young promising forwards in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and a max-contract forward in Gordon Hayward.

The Celtics are nearly $4 million over the luxury-tax line, and Morris’ salary is $5,375,000. Though ownership has shown a willingness to pay the tax and the impending tax bill is relatively small, Boston could also face huge repeater-rate tax bills down the road. Delaying the clock by dodging the tax altogether this year could hold appeal.

Plus, will the Celtics really re-sign Morris next summer, when Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Terry Rozier can become free agents?

It might be better to trade Morris now and get something in return.

Morris is trying to avoid the noise – “All that talk and all that jibbering, it will go out the window unless I see it on TV or something – but Boston’s activity in the trade market is well-established. On the other hand, the Celtics hold legitimate championship aspirations this season, and depth players like Morris could make the difference.

“I have great relationships with everybody around here,” Morris said. “But obviously, it’s a business. So, at the same time, I’m just going to continue to do what I need to do.”

It’s a lot to juggle – his short- and long-term fits in Boston, the Celtics’ team goals, his son, his play on the court. But if Morris ever need a reminder of what he needs to do, he can always glance at the back of his jersey.

Jordan Bell spectacularly missed dunk, but Warriors reaction was perfect

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Golden State was starting to make its comeback, cutting the lead to eight midway through the third quarter when Draymond Green found Jordan Bell for the breakaway dunk and…

Ouch.

What was impressive though was the Warriors reaction. First, Steve Kerr didn’t take him out. Didn’t bench him, instead left him in and with that showed confidence.

Then there was Draymond Green, who was on ESPN’s Mic’d Up, and was heard encouraging Bell.

Then there was assistant coach Mike Brown, who tried to get Bell out of the moment, in a great story relayed by Ethan Straus of The Athletic.

“So Jordan played against my son Elijah,” Brown explained. “My oldest son played at Mater Dei High School in Orange County and Jordan played at Long Beach [Poly]. So they had a lot of games back in the day. So I went up to him and he thought I was serious, because we took the time out. He’s about to walk out of the huddle and I walk up to him and say, ‘Jordan, listen, don’t worry about the dunk. I saw about three or four of them back in the Long Beach days and you bounced back.’ He fell out laughing. He said, ‘Ah, MB, I didn’t do that back then!’ I said, ‘Yea you did! It’s all good, though!’”

It worked. Bell never lost confidence, never stopped playing the way he plays, and soon enough there was this.

With Portland going smaller and counting on their offense more, Bell is going to have a larger role in that matchup. This is exactly how you build up the confidence of a player so he will come through for you in those moments.

 

Damian Lillard reportedly playing through separated ribs suffered in Game 2

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Midway through the third quarter of Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, Portland’s Damian Lillard and Golden State’s Kevon Looney both dove for a loose ball near midcourt. Looney got it, threw the ball ahead to Stephen Curry, and in the process rolled over Lillard.

Lillard suffered separated ribs on that play, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Here is the play.

Lillard has shot 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) since the injury, including 5-of-18 in the Trail Blazers’ Game 3 loss.

Lillard shot 7-of-19 (36.8 percent) before the injury — the Warriors trapping him and forcing the ball out of his hands has been an issue for Lillard in this series, long before his collision with Looney.

Lillard himself did not bring the injury up, it was leaked. When asked in his postgame press conference Saturday night, Lillard admitted to being tired but would not use it as an excuse.

“Everybody’s tired,” Lillard said. “It’s the third round of the playoffs after a long season. Our last series, I got a lot of attention. The team was giving me a lot of attention and same thing in this series. It takes a lot to deal with that and then go out and chase guys around on the defensive end.

“But everybody’s putting that effort out. I mean, I feel fine enough to go out there and play 40 minutes like I have been, but you know, it’s definitely tiring.”

And he’s playing through pain on top of it.

Portland is already down 0-3 in this series and faces a win-or-it’s-over Game 4 on Monday night at the Moda Center.

Game 3 Déjà vu: Warriors slow down Lillard, come from behind to win, take 3-0 series lead

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It was Déjà vu all over again for the Warriors and Trail Blazers. And it all started with Damian Lillard.

The Warriors didn’t re-invent the wheel in this playoff series, they just have aggressively executed the game plan that has troubled Portland in the playoffs for years:

Take the ball out of Damian Lillard’s hands, dare anyone else to beat you.

Oklahoma City and Denver could not do it, but Golden State has. Every chance the Warriors get they trap Lillard off the pick-and-roll, and even when they don’t do that the Warriors show the second defender early. Lillard has struggled with his shot against that, he was 5-of-18 shooting in Game 3, and in the series he is now 15-of-46 (32.6 percent).

What Lillard is doing right is making the smart pass to the big on the short roll at the free throw line, creating a 4-on-3 (or sometimes 3-on-2) for the Trail Blazers to attack, but they have not consistently taken advantage of that.

“I think what they want me to do is make the correct play, and for me, I try to do that for as long as possible,” Lillard said. “You know, as long as I can do it and we can stay in the game or have a lead like we have the last two games when I’m just making the right plays, and guys are doing what they’re supposed to do on the weak side.

“But I think in Golden State’s minds, they know at some point, if we’re going to beat them, I’m going to have to be rolling. They are just kind of banking on the fact that we’ll just live with what’s happening right now. Keep getting the ball out of his hands and you know, at some point, we’ll probably be able to take over the game.”

Golden State did take over the game, in part bucause they have a playmaker as good as Draymond Green.

Green is the master of the short roll, and on Saturday night he was doing that, plus driving end-to-end, owning the glass, and generally being the best player on the floor on his way to 20 points on 12 shots, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists.

“I don’t even know what to say about Draymond, he was like a wrecking ball out there,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said postgame. “He was just destroying every in his path. The pace he was generating was incredible and it seemed like he never got tired.”

Green was critical to another dominant Golden State third quarter that sparked a comeback from 18 down in the third to win 110-99.

Golden State now has a stranglehold on the series, up 3-0. Game 4 is in Portland on Monday night.

The Warriors are now 4-0 without Kevin Durant, still out with a strained calf (he’s not expected to return this series). Stephen Curry, who had 36 in this win, has scored at least 33 in each of those wins.

In the most important ways, Game 3 felt like a replay of Game 2, just in a different arena.

Feeding off that home crowd and energy, the Trail Blazers raced out to an early lead and were the better team through the first 24 minutes. Portland shot 11-of-22 outside the paint in the first half, compared to 9-of-27 for Golden State. Portland had a 125.7 offensive rating in the first half thanks to that shooting, plus grabbing the offensive rebound on 34.8 percent of their missed shots.

More than the offense, Portland played good half-court defense in the first half, taking the Warriors out of their rhythm. They trapped Curry and Thompson with size — Moe Harkless and Myers Leonard if possible — and the Warriors struggled to adapt

Leonard played the best basketball of his career in the first half, with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting (he finished with 16 points) and making plays like this:

All that had the Trail Blazers up 13 at the half. It was impressive, then again they were up 15 at the half in Game 2. The Warriors were not fazed.

“It all started with our second half defense, we held them to 33 points,” Steve Kerr said after the game. “We had amazing contributions off the bench, every single guy came in and made an impact.”

That bench mattered. The Golden State starters and core lineups got back in the game, taking a small lead, but when Green and Curry rested to start the fourth, Portland left their starters in and were still -3 in those critical minutes.

Curry and Green came in rested, and the Warriors leaned on them heavily the rest of the way with the Curry/Green pick-and-roll — Portland has no answers for that.

The Warriors run also seemed to shake the Portland offense. The Trail Blazers shot 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) from three after the first quarter, and for the game the Blazers missed 13 free throws (they shot just 60.6 percent as a team from the stripe).

Portland was led by CJ McCollum, who had 23 points on 20 shots.

He’s going to have to do better, Lillard is going to have to do a lot better, and the Blazers are going to have to find something special in the third quarter Monday night, or they will be swept right out of the playoffs.

Blazers passing impressive as they push first-half lead to double digits (VIDEO)

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Back home, the Portland Trail Blazers looked far more comfortable.

Feeding off the energy of a loud crowd at the Moda Center, the Trail Blazers stretched out to a first-half lead thanks to a level of impressive ball movement and energy we have not seen from them all series. Check it out.

This may go down as the Myers Leonard game, he had 13 points in the first half.

Portland stretched their lead to as much as 18 and was up by 13 at the half. I wouldn’t call that comfortable because, well, Golden State, but it’s the best the Blazers have played all series.