When Markieff Morris was sitting and chatting with reporters after practice on Saturday, it was clear the veteran forward wasn’t happy with how he’d played in the bubble so far, and especially not with the effort and energy (or lack thereof) he gave the Lakers in their Game 1 loss to the Houston Rockets to open the second round of the NBA playoffs. He vowed to give the team more of both in his next appearance.
The Lakers didn’t have to wait long for Morris to deliver on his promise. He caught fire as soon as he stepped on the floor in Game 2, exploding for 12 points in his first three minutes of playing time by knocking down four 3-pointers. And more than just the scoring, Morris gave the Lakers the energy he promised, as the bench went into increasingly ridiculous celebratory convulsions with each triple he hit. At one point, JaVale McGee celebrated so hard that he fell over the wall closing off the team section from the court, screaming “KEEF!!! KEEF!!!” the whole way down.
When the night was all said and done, he had a new Lakers-high of 16 points, and his shooting, hustle and toughness had helped fuel a 117-109 victory to tie up the series at one game apiece.
“Keef was spectacular off the bench, giving us that instant offense with his grit. We love having him on the floor,” said Laker star LeBron James. “He was unbelievable for us in that second quarter.”
Fellow Lakers starter Danny Green agreed, saying Morris gave the team “a huge boost” off the bench.
“To have four threes in a quarter is unbelievable, it’s unreal. Most guys don’t get that in a game, so for him to give us that in a quarter was the reason that we were up so big early on,” Green said.
While speaking postgame, James also let slip that the Lakers have been calling Morris “Smoove” within their locker room. Watching the way he scored on Sunday night, it was easy to understand why, but Morris was just relieved he finally showed it.
“It’s about time I hit some shots, I haven’t hit any shots, shit, since I’ve been here, really,” Morris said.
To Morris’ point, he could almost literally not have been colder entering Game 2. Of Lakers players to attempt more than three 3-pointers in the playoffs so far, Morris was shooting the worst percentage (3-13, 23.1%) prior to Sunday. Against the Rockets, he made four of his five attempts from deep, and is now the Lakers’ third-best postseason 3-point shooter at 38.9%.
Morris was so red-hot, in fact, that Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said he had to go away from his original plan to play Dwight Howard in the second quarter, instead sticking with the small-ball lineup Morris was playing in. They rewarded him with an 18-4 run.
“Sometimes you got to ride that hot hand with a hot lineup,” Vogel said.
For Morris, it was just nice to finally see his work show up.
“Last game I felt like I didn’t affect the game at all, and it’s not even just making shots. I just felt like I didn’t do anything. I felt like I didn’t bring no energy, didn’t bring no toughness, I didn’t rebound the ball, I had zero stats across the board,” Morris said. “I felt like I’ve got to be a little bit more aggressive. I feel like this is the best series for me to play a lot of minutes.”
If he keeps providing minutes like he did on Sunday, it’s going to be hard to keep him off the floor.
“He stayed ready, did what he was supposed to do,” Green said of Morris. “We’re gonna need that again in Game 3.”
Morris is ready to provide it, whenever he’s asked.
“I’m playoff ready. Whatever coach needs, I’m gonna do,” Morris said. “Either way it goes, I’m going to give it my all out there and be what I need to be for this team.”