Marcus Morris’ proclamation drew snickers.
On Sunday, he backed up it up.
Top two is debatable, but if the Celtics forward isn’t up there, he’s not far off, either.
Though not typically hailed as an elite defender, Morris possesses the rare combination of foot speed, heft, and toughness required to make life difficult for the man he called “one of the best players in the league, if not the best.”
And heading into Sunday, the numbers backed up Morris’ claim.
An internet sleuth who knows his way around NBA.com’s intentionally complicated stats page determined that in 16 meetings over the past five years, Morris held LeBron to 11.6 points per 40 possessions as the primary defender, better than the marks of shutdown forwards Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green, and Paul George.
He did even better on Sunday.
Morris defended LeBron for 39 possessions, holding the four-time MVP to eight points on 3-of-10 shooting. LeBron turned the ball over four times on those plays, and the Cavs managed just 35 points.
The Cavs star didn’t fare much better against the likes of Semi Ojeleye or Al Horford, either.
LeBron posted a plus-minus of -32, his worst career mark in the playoffs.
Even LeBron had to commend Morris’ performance. “I thought they had great game plan Game 1,” he said. “[Morris] was the start of it.”
Morris repeatedly described Boston’s success in bottling LeBron up as a “team effort.”
Marcus Morris is here for the challenge of guarding LeBron. pic.twitter.com/CAshqUgPDy
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) May 14, 2018
I’m not exactly gonna rush to name the Celtics the Eastern Conference champs. This is LeBron, after all.
But regardless of how this series shakes out, Morris has earned the right to call himself one of the defenders of maybe the greatest to ever do it.