Marcus Morris Sr. did not look right to start the season. He labored up and down the floor, made 7-of-18 shots, only collected one rebound in his 55 minutes, and saw the Clippers get outscored by 30 points over two games when he was on the court.
It was clear to Morris that he wasn’t quite ready to go even after sitting out the entire preseason. Something had to change.
“My movement just wasn’t right,” Morris said after his return against Dallas. “I just wasn’t feeling comfortable. I’ve been playing, I’ve been in the league 11 years, I’ve been playing basketball for a long time. You know, I’m just being real with myself.”
So for the past month — Morris played his last game on Oct. 23 against Memphis — the Clippers forward has been working on strengthening his knee, trying to get himself to a point where he doesn’t need to take any more time off for the remainder of the season. Morris says he feels like he took enough time and is ready to go, and that was mostly on display in his first game back.
On the first possession of the game, Morris adequately zoned up the weak side when the Clippers sent extra defenders at Luka Dončić, then swooped in for the defensive rebound, doubling his total for the season. He hit the first shot he attempted, a 3-pointer on a fast break on one of the rare instances when the Clippers executed properly in transition. The entire bench was up ready to celebrate when Paul George kicked out to Morris in the corner, and the man who shot 56.4 percent from that spot in 2020-21 cashed in.
Morris had good arc and lift on his jumper. He was feeling comfortable, as he took the third-most shots on the team and played 31 minutes despite being under a nominal minutes restriction. He mixed in catch-and-shoots and pull-up jumpers, even sprinkling in a couple of drives to the rim. He had more functional gravity than Nicolas Batum generally does in that spot, just because Morris is more likely to try to score when he gets the ball than Batum. Morris even flashed some athleticism on the defensive end, notching a couple blocks and saving a rebound by diving out of bounds.
He finished with 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting, far below the efficiency we’ve come to expect based on his last season in Los Angeles, but better than expected after the month off. His shots were all on line, and it doesn’t feel like it will be too long until Morris resumes his sniper status.
“I thought he was good, I thought he did some good things,” Ty Lue said postgame. “Had some shots that he normally makes, but when the game is fast, and the game speeds up, it’s a little different. But I thought he was good, I thought he moved well, I thought he took his open shots, and now we’ll have him back and kind of get him more incorporated to the offense a little bit more as well.”
“He’s still going to find his shots and find his rhythm but I thought he helped us big time from a shot-making standpoint and somebody that can put pressure on the defense,” Paul George added. “And defensively I thought he looked good.”
It was fitting that Morris made his comeback against the Mavericks, a team that he has had many high-profile battles against. Morris seemed to relish the atmosphere more than usual. He acknowledged that the game had the feel of a playoff environment and would love for the competition to get even more aggressive.
Marcus Morris: "The refs are on my ass. I can't even talk to Luka, I can't even breathe on him."— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) November 24, 2021
Then adds on the rivalry:
"We beat them all the time so until they get a win, it's really on our side. But kudos to their team. I like their team. They're playing well." pic.twitter.com/jZXvvIK0OQ
For now, the Clippers are perfectly content to play less dramatic games and save Morris from himself as he works his way back. Batum will still be out for at least another three games and Amir Coffey seems like the only other trusted power forward in the rotation, given that Justise Winslow’s minutes have waxed and waned.
Morris wants to contribute now. He didn’t get the desired result in the win column, but he got through an extended minute load with no hiccups. That’s a win in and of itself.
“Felt good, couple of shots didn’t go, but it’s a part of the game,” Morris said, “I think i looked good myself, too. Shots will come, rhythm will come, I’m a veteran. Just felt great to be out there.”