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Mike Shalin's Working Press: Celts' Morris, Brown walk the walk

By MIKE SHALIN
May 14. 2018 8:10PM
Cleveland forward LeBron James is guarded by Boston forward Marcus Morris during the first quarter of Sunday's game at TD Garden. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)



IT’S SOMETHING about as old as sports itself.

You make a claim, a boast, and you have to be prepared to back it up.

Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown made such claims before the Eastern Conference final with the Cavaliers began.

Then they backed it up.

Both of them.

In a BIG way.

Morris, who will never be accused of being shy, said only Kawhi Leonard was better in the league at guarding LeBron James. Then, despite two early fouls, he was part of the defensive effort against The King and also outscored and out-rebounded the best player in the league.

Brown, continuing his charge toward stardom in these playoffs, took it from the other angle.

“He’d better be alert, because if he’s not, I’m going to get it going,” he said. “You’ve got to make him work on both sides of the ball. Usually he’s guarding the least-offensive threat on the floor, so if he’s guarding me, I’m going to make him pay.”

Morris scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while chalking up a plus-25 in 34:03 of playing time. Brown, who set the tone five seconds into the game by taking the opening tap from Al Horford and sprinting in for a layup, posted 23 points and added eight rebounds.

Brown surprised even his teammates with his comments.

“Yeah, I was surprised to hear him say that,” said a smiling Marcus Smart, who had nine points, six assists, three rebounds and his usual pestiness in the win. “But you know, that’s how we all feel. We’ve played against guys bigger than us our whole lives and we’ve been the underdog and this is nothing new to us.”

James was dreadful but got NO help from his teammates. The entire Cleveland team, not known for its defense, anyway, basically lay down for the loss. The Cavs’ defense, like their offense, is dependent on what James does — and Sunday he did nothing. He came into the playoff averaging 34.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 9.0 assists per game in the playoffs and was gone with 7:10 left in this game. He was 5-for-16 from the floor.

Afterward, he noted: “I have zero level of concern at this stage ... I didn’t go to college, so it’s not March Madness.”

He’s right. One loss in the first game doesn’t end it. But it added to the brashness of this brash group of Celtics as they head into tonight’s Game 2.

Morris was cool opening his post-game comments.

Asked about James, he said, “First of all, I want to say happy Mother’s Day to all the beautiful mothers out there, including my own, Angel Morris. She’s not here, but I just want to say happy Mother’s Day to her.”

Tristan Thompson, one of the few Cavs who didn’t mail it in Sunday, is likely to start in Game 2. He had eight points and 11 rebounds in almost 21 minutes in Game 1. He also warns “usually when LeBron has these kind of games, the next game he does something legendary.”

He was ready

Boston.com’s Nicole Yang spoke to Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca about Brad Stevens and learned the coach would not have left Butler if the team was about to embark on the “T” word (tanking).

“The one thing he wouldn’t do going forward was try to lose a game, or you know, ‘tank,’” Pagliuca said. “So if we were going to have a strategy, maybe like ‘The Process,’ he was not going to participate in that.

“We said, ‘No, we’re always trying to win. We’re going to try to win on the fly and rebuild on the fly.’ Who knows if we can do that or not, but that was certainly going to be the strategy. Tanking is different than developing talent. We try to keep all the good talent.”

Team effort in the playoffs? Jayson Tatum leads the team at 18.6 points per game, but Brown and Terry Rozier are both at 17.4, Horford at 17.2, Morris 12.9 and Smart 10.4.

Wanna bet?

The Supreme Court voted 7-2 Monday to overturn the ban of states allowing sports gambling.

“Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito said. “Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not.”

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

This appears to open the door to all kinds of things — even to the kind of system they have in place in Canada, where you can get a daily Ontario ticket based on the games in all sports that day. It’s just like buying a lottery ticket.

As far as we know, there have been no incidents indicating this is a bad thing.

No big deal

Count Josh McDaniels who doesn’t see Tom Brady’s absence from voluntary workouts as any problem for the 2018 season.

“As coaches, selfishly, we always want them all here,” the offensive coordinator said. “But I totally understand that those things happen. It’s happened before. And I have no doubt that he thinks what he’s doing is right for him and his family. And I completely respect that.

“I know he’ll be ready to go. I know he’ll be in good shape, good condition. I’m sure he’s really working hard, and I’m not really worried about that.”

Rob Gronkowski, also not at the workouts, celebrated his 29th birthday Monday — and we know what celebrate means when it comes to the big fella, right.

Shohei shines

On Thursday night, Shohei Ohtani blasted his fifth homer and, through Sunday, was hitting .348 with 16 RBIs and a 1.044 OPS at the plate — after he struck out 11 Twins in 6 1/3 innings of a no-decision.

He has an Angels-record 43 strikeouts in six starts.

After the game, manager Mike Scioscia was asked about Ohtani’s “solid” performance.

“That was a pretty phenomenal start, not a solid start,” Scioscia said. “That was phenomenal. His stuff is electric. I think just his presence in a tight ballgame was what Shohei is about. He’s going to go out there and make pitches. He used all his pitches and probably had another handful in his back pocket, but that was a stretch for him to go out there for any more this afternoon.”

It’s clear the guy is a dual threat. It will be interesting to see how the Angels handle him going forward. They could drop a day off his rotation status, allowing him to pitch every sixth day instead of seven.

And people are noticing. Logan Morrison, who reached base three times against the righty, said, “He was really good. He’s only 23 years old and is going to get better. I think he’s doing something that nobody has probably ever done, and it might be a long time before you see it again. There’s another guy in that clubhouse (Mike Trout) who is a really good player, but to me, with what (Ohtani) does on the mound and with the bat, he’s probably the best player in the world.”

Caps rolling

In their first visit to the conference finals in two decades, Washington won two straight at Tampa Bay and did it in convincing fashion.

NHL.com’s Dan Rosen noted before Game 2 that since 1975, 39 of the 41 teams that took a 2-0 lead in the conference finals went on to win those series. And it can’t be overlooked that these two wins came on the road.

Harkening back to last week, we again salute Flyers goalie prospect Alex Lyon, who played 11 games in the NHL this season, made 94 saves in a five-OT 2-1 playoff win. He stopped the last 74 shots before Alex Krushelnyski, son of a former Bruin (Mike), scored the winner.

Long time coming

The Cincinnati Reds, suddenly playing some respectable baseball (six straight wins through Sunday), swept a four-game series from the Dodgers over the weekend for the first time since 1976.

Our pal Jayson Stark at The Athletic noted:

Last time the Reds swept a 4-G series in L.A. (Aug. 5-8, 1976)... Dodgers starters were Don Sutton, Rick Rhoden, Tommy John, Burt Hooton ... #Reds got HR from Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, George Foster ... Sparky Anderson (a.k.a. Captain Hook) only went to his pen 4 times in 4 games!”

The Dodgers fell to 16-24 with the four losses, their worst 40-game start since 1958, their first year in L.A.

The Astros took the shifting to a ridiculous level over the weekend when they had SIX GUYS to the right of second base against Joey Gallo.

“There’s some psychological warfare that goes on,” said Houston manager A.J. Hinch, who used a four-man outfield against Gallo on Opening Day. “It’s like chess.”

Hinch said he would welcome a Gallo bunt against the shift if the count went to 2-0, taking away the home run possibility. It reminds me of Dave Kingman’s time with the Mets, where he used to bunt for hits — and the opposition had to be smiling. Speaking of the Astros, Justin Verlander (1.23), Gerrit Cole (1.43) and Charlie Morton (2.03) were 1-2-3 in the American League in ERA. Teammate Dallas Keuchel was 13th with a 3.10.

Whither Swihart?

Through Sunday, Christian Vazquez was hitting .179 with no homers, five RBIs and a .447 OPS. Sandy Leon was batting .159 with a homer, five RBIs and a .440 OPS.

Yet, there was no sign that Blake Swihart, who came up as a catcher and is now a utility man who doesn’t catch, would be donning the tools of ignorance any time soon.

Is it the manager and his staff who are being ignorant?

Column pal Chris Smith of MassLive.com tweeted, when asked if anyone had questioned Alex Cora’s thinking about Swihart behind the plate: “(The Boston Globe’s) Nick Cafardo phrased his question recently to Cora something like this, “I know I’ve probably asked you this 10 times, but will Blake Swihart get an opportunity with the other two catchers struggling offensively? So Nick alone has asked it like 10 times.

So yes.”

Finally, more from Smith: “Mookie Betts leads the majors in batting average (.360), on-base percentage (.440), OPS (1.212) and extra-base hits (29). He’s tied for the major-league lead with 13 homers.

He’s slashing .439/.520/.951/1.471 at Fenway Park.”

Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is shalinmike@yahoo.com.


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