Boston Celtics

By Ty Anderson,

I’m gonna level with you: I have never been more tempted to buy a Marcus Morris jersey than when he screamed right in Tristan Thompson’s face after Thompson fouled Morris in the third quarter of Game 2.

The NBA Store’s 20 percent off promotion did not help settle these urges.

In addition to being the spark that helped fuel a 39-25 Celtic run in the final 17:14 of play, giving the C’s Game 2 and a commanding 2-0 series lead, it was one of those moments that perfectly captured the first 96 minutes of a series dominated by the Celtics and their tone-setting physicality against LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

Think about it: After getting thumped around by the C’s in Game 1, Cavs coach Ty Lue’s call to Thompson was supposed to throw the Celtics off their game. It was supposed to even the playing field, force the Celtics out of their comfort zone, and give the Cavaliers the room needed to punch the Celtics square in the face. Instead, the only noteworthy event involving Thompson in Game 2 was that sequence that saw him on the receiving end of a menacing scream right in his grill.

If Thompson did anything about Morris, he would not be a Cavalier playing in the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals.

After the game, Lue said that the Celtics were “gooning up” the game.

Something the Celtics, two wins away from their first trip to the NBA Finals since 2010, should wear as a badge of honor.

While we’re all high on what the C’s have done without Kyrie (anybody telling you it’s nothing short of incredible is a dolt too stubborn to admit they’re wrong), let’s be real: If this series came down to pure skill, the Celtics would and should lose.

You’re talking about a series with the best player in the world (who’s been to seven straight NBA Finals, by the way), a Kevin Love that’s still somewhat serviceable as an offensive threat, and numerous title-winning roleplayers going against a legitimate island of misfit toys making up the antithesis of what’s required to win in today’s superteam-loaded NBA.

The Celtics are instead rolling on the back of the team’s third-string point guard, a player that was tweeting for a follow back from LeBron six years ago, a second-year pro considered to be a ‘project’ when drafted, and a 31-year-old big whose Boston tenure has been defined by a pissing contest between those that view him as merely ‘average’ and those that do not.

The Cavaliers, even in an 0-2 hole, are the more skilled team with far more imposing threats, especially on offense.

So what have the Celtics done to even things up? They’ve bopped the Cavaliers around.

That starts with finding ways to punish LeBron.

When you think about the way that Morris has leaned in against the 33-year-old James, it’s been with an obvious endgame in mind; Morris and the Celtics know that if they batter him around, lean on him, and pester him for the opening three quarters — doing whatever they can to make him exert more energy than he typically would en route to his ‘easy baskets’ and drives to the lane — there’s a good chance that he’s not going to be as effective in the game-deciding fourth quarter.

Morris confirmed this exact line of thinking in an excellent interview with The Athletic’s Jay King.

LeBron, who took a Jayson Tatum shoulder to the head in the second quarter of Game 2 and was knocked out of the game for a quick spell, has done his part to battle through what the Celtics have done to him.

But like Morris told King, LeBron’s still a human being — and he looks like a tired, beaten man.

Even with a soft 42 points (21 of which came in the opening 12 minutes), though, James looks just plain lightyears better than the rest of his teammates, who all appear to have legitimately no interest in matching Boston’s aggression in this series.

Morris’ teammates, meanwhile, look at what he’s done in this series as a rallying cry, and something they can get behind.

“The passion that he plays with, and a lot of guys — you want that from your guys,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said of Morris’ style. “I’ll take that any day out of a guy. Him giving it everything that he has, leaving it all out on the court, than somebody who’s out there trying to be pretty boy or Cinderella, whatever you want to call it, primadonna, just chilling.

“I want somebody who’s going to go to war for me just like I’m going to go to war for him.”

To be that guy making cross-sport references, what the Celtics have done in this round is reminiscent of what the Bruins did to the Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. The Canucks were a team loaded with skill and ‘superior’ players. But they had no real interest in playing the style the Bruins forced them into, and it ultimately made them collapse like a house of cards.

You’ve already seen early signs of that from the Cavs, too.

National writers such as ESPN basketball insider and LeBron handpuppet Brian Windhorst have called it ‘organizational fatigue’ on behalf of the Cavaliers from years of runs to the Finals. Nope. It’s an unwillingness to fight with a team you know you can’t match in a street fight. It’s realizing that while you can change your results with better luck at the basket (something Lue has been adamant in when speaking to the Cavs’ shooting woes), the Celtics will not stop being the relentless, scrappy team that’s frustrated countless superstars and ‘better’ teams into largely self-inflicted wounds.

And it’s knowing that even if home court holds true in this series, that the Celtics will always have an extra game in the building where the only people screaming louder than Morris are the 18,000-plus surrounding the court.

This is also exactly what the Celtics will need to continue to do if they are to make it out of this round and go against the real life version of Space Jam’s MonStars of Golden State or Houston’s star-studded Chris Paul-James Harden backcourt combo. And while their bruise-based results in this round — and in the NBA Finals, if they’re so fortunate — may not be the same as they’ve been for the first two games of this series, there’s something to be said for what these C’s have shown to this point.

This swagger has become this star-less team’s identity in an improbable run, and at the perfect time, as they sit just two goon-it-up efforts away from an appearance in the NBA Finals.

Ty Anderson is a digital producer for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.