2018 Playoffs | Eastern Conference Finals: Celtics (2) vs. Cavaliers (4)

Boston Celtics' Marcus Morris gets into starting lineup, says he's ready for challenge of defending LeBron James

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The first question for when the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers tip off the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday will be the primary question throughout the series. How are the Celtics going to defend LeBron James?

With the Cavs likely to start James at power forward, Marcus Morris will start for Boston in place of Aron Baynes. Baynes started all five games in the conference semifinals, but didn’t start any of the Celtics’ three regular season games vs. Cleveland. Gordon Hayward started the first game of the season and Morris started the other two meetings, with Al Horford at center.

Either way, Morris will get his turn. And though Celtics coach Brad Stevens made it clear that defending James is “totally a collective effort,” Morris is ready, as Adam Himmelsbach writes in the Boston Globe

When the Celtics agreed to sign Gordon Hayward to a max contract last summer, they knew they would have to make a trade to free up the necessary salary-cap space. They acquired Marcus Morris from the Pistons for Avery Bradley because they liked his versatility, his shooting, and his toughness. But when Morris arrived in Boston for the first time last September, Celtics coach Brad Stevens met with him and made another reason for the team’s interest quite clear.

“When I first got here, I wasn’t sure why, or where I was going to fit,” Morris said. “And Brad sat me down and said, ‘We brought you here to be able to defend LeBron [James] when we get to the Eastern Conference finals.’ And we’re here now.”

“I’d say it’s a little amazing to know that this situation was going to happen back in September. For them to be able to see this far, and it to come out to play how it is, it’s a little amazing. So I’m here to fulfill the dream.”

Brown defended James often during last season’s conference finals, but Morris has the most experience against him overall. He guarded James throughout the Pistons’ first-round playoff matchup against the Cavaliers two seasons ago, and he said that experience taught him that he needed more preparation to tackle this unusual challenge.

“I’ve matured,” Morris said. “I obviously got stronger, got smarter as far as watching film. Back then I wasn’t really watching film. Now I’m a student of the game and watching tendencies and watching other players defend him well. I’ve been trying to see the success other defenders had against him and trying to use that and integrate that in what I do.”

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