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Cleveland Cavaliers NBA Playoffs Marcus Morris Sr. becomes a leader

CLEVELAND — Marcus Morris Sr. wasn’t even really supposed to be part of the moment. At least, that wasn’t the plan. But when the moment arrived, he came through in the Cavaliers’ biggest win in years.

When the Cavs showed up to the arena before Tuesday’s Game 5 against the Orlando Magic, they weren’t sure if Morris would even play.

A few hours later, the veteran was hitting one of the biggest shots of the night and playing a vital part in the Cavs’ 104-103 win, giving them a crucial 3-2 series lead.

Morris hadn’t played a single second of meaningful basketball in the first four games of the playoffs, only appearing in garbage time in the Cavs’ losses in Games 3 and 4 in Orlando.

In fact, he reached the point of wondering if he’d even get off the bench at all in a moment that mattered.

“It’s funny because the first four games I was like, ‘Damn, am I even going to play in the playoffs?'” Morris said after the Cavs’ win. “It was a little hard. I haven’t played before. This was the first time I haven’t actually touched the floor, so it was a little hard just because I knew I could help in some type of capacity — physicality, being a veteran voice, whatever it was.”

Marcus Morris steps up in place of Jarrett Allen in Cavaliers’ Game 5 win over Orlando Magic

Then Tuesday afternoon, Jarrett Allen hit the injury report with bruised ribs. It wasn’t clear that the Cavs starting center wouldn’t play until shortly before tip-off. Teammates were already at the arena before they found out that Morris would be needed in Game 5 after he was an afterthought in Games 1, 2, 3 and 4.

He went on to make a massive impact as the Cavs and Magic traded the lead back and forth all night. He finished with 12 points, including 10 in the second half alone. He also hit a key 3-pointer that tied it 90-90 with five minutes left in the fourth quarter.

“It felt good. In the summertime, I worked my ass off for moments like this,” Morris said.

Morris has worked a lot of summers, now a 13-year veteran who’s seen just about everything in the NBA. He’s been a staple in the playoffs in some form since 2016, a presence throughout the years.

Donovan Mitchell, in fact, has been on the other side of Morris’ impact in the playoffs from his time with the Utah Jazz.

“This is a guy that’s been ‘The Guy’ for the Knicks. He’s been a contributor for the Celtics. He’s been a role player for the Clippers,” Mitchell said of Morris’ extensive playoff history. “He hit me a few times with that in Utah. He’s got me a few times with the Clippers. So it’s great to have that. And that’s what we brought him here for.”

Marcus Morris joins Cavs midway through season, delivers in 2024 NBA playoffs

The Cavs signed Morris to a 10-day contract after he was waived by the Philadelphia 76ers in February. They then signed him for the rest of the season, and he became the embodiment of the type of physical play for which they were searching.

He was the type of enforcer who added physicality along with a needed veteran presence. Morris, Tristan Thompson, Georges Niang and Max Strus have all contributed to a tougher mentality and style of play that wasn’t there a year ago.

He also saw how he could most impact the Cavaliers locker room and help them to navigate their playoff hopes.

“Honestly, just by leading,” Morris said, of what he feels has been his biggest impact. “I think there were times where it was getting a little bit up and down, and they were fighting, and just being able to get guys in to just talk to each other. I thin we missed that (in Games 3 and 4), just when it kind of got a little bumpy, we kind of went opposite directions.”

Some of Morris’ biggest moments before this season happened to come against the Cavaliers, and namely LeBron James. Morris’ Celtics took the Cavaliers to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2018 before Cleveland finally put them away.

“I remember playing well,” Morris said. “I went up and down with King. It was fun, man. I was one of those times I’ve been in the playoffs as a started, so I’ve always relished those moments.”

This year, Morris had to wait for one of those moments until Game 5. But he was ready, and in doing so, become one of the unlikely heroes that has the Cavaliers on the verge of winning their first playoff series without James on the roster in three decades.

Ryan Lewis can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Threads at @ByRyanLewis.