The forward, who started the past three games, is averaging 13.8 points and 6.7 rebounds entering Friday night’s home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
BOSTON – The day after the Celtics lost in the Eastern Conference finals last May, Marcus Morris wondered aloud about his role this season.
With the return of Gordon Hayward from a gruesome injury and the emergence of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Morris knew there would be a tight squeeze for minutes in the 2018-19 season.
Morris had played a significant role in the Celtics getting within one win of the NBA Finals, averaging 13.6 points in 26.7 minutes, and was curious how things were going to play out with the roster at full strength.
Roughly a quarter of the way through his second season with the Celtics, Morris is getting the same amount of playing time and is giving the team the same amount of production.
And, according to coach Brad Stevens, Morris has been the most consistent player on a team that has struggled, going 11-10 heading into Friday night’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the TD Garden (7:05, TV: NBC Sports Boston; radio: WBZ-FM/98.5).
“Just trying to control what I can control when I get out there, whether it’s starting or coming off the bench, just trying to do something with the minutes I’m getting,’’ said Morris after a brief practice Thursday afternoon at the Auerbach Center. “Obviously, I feel like I’m a matchup problem. Either way the offense goes, I feel like offense or defense, I can incorporate myself at a high level.
‘If I’m not scoring, I’m able to defend multiple positions and offensively being able to stretch the floor and rebound and bring a lot of energy.’’
Morris is third on the team with a 13.8 scoring average and is first in 3-point shooting (43.3 percent) and rebounds (6.7) while playing 26 minutes a game.
Stevens moved Morris into the starting lineup the past three games, and he helped bring more aggressiveness to the Celtics in the first quarter, which had been a problem.
“We’ve been struggling to get off to great starts,’’ said Morris, “so my main thing is start with some aggressiveness just to show them it’s going to be a tough game when you come in here. I’m just trying to up that tempo, up that pace, up the demeanor with the first unit.
“We’re going to keep — I’m not going to say it like I’m the coach — but we’re going to keep, I’m guessing, that unit to see how it goes. For the guys out there starting off, the communication is at the highest level since I’ve been here, guys knowing where to be, knowing where to switch, talking things out, understanding what the goal is at the beginning of the game.’’
While younger players like Tatum and Brown and Terry Rozier have struggled with the return of Hayward and Kyrie Irving to the lineup, Morris has had no problem adapting and has flourished.
“Obviously it’s a different team,’’ he said. “As a young player, sometimes it’s hard to adjust to that, having a different role. I understand that totally because when I was a younger player I was getting my shots and (then) I had to figure it out. It was kind of hard.
“Me, as a veteran, I’ve been in the league eight years, the last three years I’ve averaged 14 points. Obviously, I can get a bucket. I’m just really focused on helping the team and I’ve been rebounding the ball a lot better than I normally do. Those have been my main focuses — stretching the floor, rebounding and playing better defense.’’
Advice from Irving: Hayward, who is now with the second unit, is averaging just 8.9 shots per game, and Irving wants him to increase that total.
“Honestly, I think that he’s passing a little too much for Gordon’s potential and talent,’’ said Irving. “I think that coming into the next few games, I think he’ll be able to show some different things that he has been on for the start of the season, just being more aggressive offensively and looking for his shot more.
“(Wednesday) I told him, ‘Look for your shot more and get aggressive and get yourself going because you are a great talent in this league and I don’t want you to ever forget that.’ Of course he does a great job coming off pick-and-rolls and making those passes, but I want him to be aggressive and score the basketball for us as well because we’re going to need it down the stretch.’’
Around the rim: The Celtics said that Brown (right lower back bruise) and Al Horford (rest) will not play against the Cavaliers. … Walt Lemon Jr., who was on a two-way contract with the Celtics and the Maine Red Claws of the G League, was waived on Thursday. Lemon averaged 23.5 points, 6.4 assists and 4.4 rebounds in 10 games for Maine. … The Celtics sent guard Brad Wanamaker to the Red Claws for Thursday night’s game with the Windy City Bulls.