BOSTON — When the Celtics acquired Marcus Morris in an offseason trade that sent Avery Bradley to the Detroit Pistons, the expectation was that the veteran forward would provide scoring off the bench.
Fast forward through a tumultuous season-long battle with injuries to key players and suddenly Morris’ importance is as high as it’s been with the C’s. Tuesday night’s win against the Oklahoma City Thunder was a prime example.
Morris hit a game-winning 3-point shot to give the Celtics a 100-99 lead — also the final score — with only 1.2 seconds left in the fourth quarter. His 21 points fueled a Celtics squad missing its best scorer in All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, as well as Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Daniel Theis and, of course, Gordon Hayward.
“He’s another huge part of our team moving forward,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “If you’re counting on 13 or 14 (points) from him, now we’re counting on 16 or 18. I think that if he plays as many minutes as he did (Tuesday night), he’s going to be able to score it. We’ve just got to keep getting him the ball in good places and looking for him when he’s got a post mismatch or finding him in space when he’s got a big on him.”
One knock on Morris is that he’s not efficient enough, and that he takes too many mid-range shots. While those are true at times, he was plenty efficient versus OKC, shooting 8-for-13 (3-for-6 on 3-pointers) from the floor.
In eight games this month, Morris is averaging 16.6 points and shooting 44.3 percent (41.3 percent from beyond the arc). This is the type of scoring and efficiency the C’s will need as injuries continue to decimate their roster.
With Irving, Brown and others out of the lineup, Jayson Tatum is the only Celtic with high-end offensive skill, but he’s only a rookie. Tatum and Terry Rozier have been great since the All-Star break, but a veteran also must step up down and shoulder some of the scoring burden down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Morris, a very confident shooter, is the perfect player to play this role and take clutch shots when needed.
Here are some other notes from Celtics vs. Thunder:
— Rozier helped make the Celtics’ miracle comeback possible by hitting a 3-pointer to pull the Celtics within two at 99-97 with 12.7 seconds to play. He finished with 14 points, six assists and six rebounds.
— Tatum led the Celtics with 23 points (8-for-12 shooting) and 10 rebounds, giving him his first 20-10 game as a pro and fourth career double-double. He’s scored 20-plus points in back-to-back matchups for the first time in his career.
— Veteran center Greg Monroe scored 17 points off the bench on 6-for-12 shooting. He also hit all five of his free throw attempts and pulled down six rebounds.
— This list is pretty crazy.
— Free throws cost the Thunder a win. They hit just 19 of 29 attempts (65.5 percent) from the line, and Carmelo Anthony’s two misses with OKC up 99-97 allowed Morris to come down and hit the game-winner on the ensuing Boston possession. The Thunder rank 29th in the league in free-throw percentage, and it’s certainly an area they must improve entering the playoffs.
— Brown didn’t play Tuesday but he was getting up some shots a couple hours before the game. Stevens said Brown is progressing and could play on the upcoming road trip.
Stevens also confirmed Irving is getting a second opinion on his left knee this week. Irving has missed the last four games with left knee soreness.
— Celtics assistant coach and former player Walter McCarty will interview for the University of Evansville head coaching job Wednesday, a source told The Boston Globe.