Why Marcus Morris, Not Jaylen Brown, Guarded Kawhi Leonard In Crunch Time

BOSTON — Jaylen Brown is touted as one of the Boston Celtics’ best defenders, but when Friday’s game was on the line, he was comfortably situated on the bench.

Upon checking out at 5:22 in the fourth quarter, Brown never returned to the floor in the C’s big 123-116 overtime win over the Toronto Raptors.

As such, when Raptors star Kawhi Leonard had the ball, oftentimes it was Marcus Morris guarding him. And ultimately, Morris made the biggest defensive stop of the game.

Tied in the fourth quarter and barely a second between the game and shot clock, Leonard handled the ball at the top of the key. Morris closely guarded him, and as Leonard drove he was forced into a 17-foot, heavily-contested fadeaway jumper, which he missed just before time expired on regulation.

So why Morris in that late-game situation? After the game, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens explained.

“We have a lot of good players,” Stevens said. “So, there’s going to be times when guys that are good aren’t playing in the end. And there’s going to be other times where we lean on them for, like we did with Kyrie (Irving), 38 minutes in a night. I just think that’s part of it. And I thought (Brown) did a lot of good things early, like you said, and obviously we made some changes at the start of the fourth and he played in that group that kind of got us back into it. But then at the end, I just felt like Morris on Leonard was the way we wanted to go. And it worked out this time. But who knows. We need Jaylen. We need Jaylen to be a late-game player, for sure.”

Morris later explained what he was trying to do in that final play of the fourth.

“I just was trying to hold him from not getting to his right hand, but he still got right,” Morris said. “My whole thing was fade away from 18-19 feet, he makes it, he makes it. Just making sure I contest high and that’s what happened.”

Friday’s win very well could be a big tone-setter for the Celtics, and Stevens pushing the right buttons and Morris executing played an integral role in making the victory happen.

Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images

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