The NBA draft classes of 2010 and 2011 have been remarkably productive for the Clippers in this year’s postseason. Beyond Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, L.A. has gotten meaningful contributions from DeMarcus Cousins, Reggie Jackson, and Marcus Morris Sr. throughout the conference finals.
It’s the latter’s production that could end up being most impactful for the Clippers. Morris has been dealing with a sore knee throughout the conference finals, one that has limited his minutes and resulted in him being a game-time decision for Game 3. After averaging 34 minutes per game in round one and 33 minutes in the conference semifinals, Morris had only been on the court for 23 minutes per contest against Phoenix. That changed in Game 5, when the forward erupted for 22 points in 39 minutes. It was the first time Morris scored double figures in six games.
“We needed that boost from Marcus in the first half to get us going,” Ty Lue said after the Game 5 win. “I thought he did a great job with that. We fed off Marcus’ momentum in the first half and kept it going.”
The Clippers rely on contributions from up and down their roster, but Morris is more important than most role players. He’s a legitimate third scorer behind Jackson and George who is comfortable with the ball in his hands, and his size allows the Clippers to shift into their small lineups and be versatile defensively.
Terance Mann is more likely to function as the center offensively in small lineups, but Morris takes the defensive challenge at the 5. He battled with Boban Marjanović and Rudy Gobert before moving on to Deandre Ayton, and his effort containing the Phoenix center was crucial to keeping even with the Suns on the glass.
The Clippers can play small without a healthy Morris — a Jackson/George/Mann/Nic Batum/Patrick Beverley lineup might do the trick — but they don’t feel comfortable. Morris gives that group some heft and some physicality that it’s otherwise missing. He also knows how to take advantage of the spacing on offense; Morris did that by posting up, knowing that the help couldn’t come because the Clippers had shooters at every other position. The one time he saw two defenders on a drive, Morris simply dumped the ball off to Cousins.
“That’s probably the best I’ve been feeling this series, just constant work on my knee and long nights, just mentally trying to prepare myself,” Morris said. “I just felt better than I felt previous games. I knew this was one of those, either I was going to go out and play all the minutes or I wasn’t going to play at all.”
Fortunately for L.A., Morris was ready to give it his all, and in doing so, gave a template for how the shorthanded Clippers can still win this series. The Clippers don’t have a lot of options left, but a healthy Morris is an important one.