It was a sudden jolt from an unexpected source for the Lakers, the barrage of three-pointers in the first quarter from reserve forward Markieff Morris sending them on a nice little ride in Game 2 of the playoffs on Sunday night.
But the four three-pointers Morris dropped on the Houston Rockets in the first 12 minutes of the game were not his only contributions towards the Lakers’ 117-109 victory that evened the best-of-seven second-round series at 1-1.
He was a force on the backboards. He played strong defense. He played with energy and his skills and toughness allowed the Lakers to use his 6-foot-8 frame to play a small-ball line against the small-ball-playing Rockets.
The 12 points Morris scored in the first quarter came on four-for-four on three-pointer shots, a boost that pushed the Lakers to a 16-point lead. That was a career-high for points in a quarter in the playoffs and in a half (14) for Morris.
He completed his night with 16 points, five rebounds and high praise for being ready to play at a high level. He was six-for-eight from the field, four-for-five from three-point range and was a plus-15 in the plus-minus category.
“Me personally, I prepare for anything,” Morris said on a video conference call with reporters from the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Fla. “It’s about time I start making some shots. I haven’t made shots since I’ve been here, really. I’m playoff ready. Whenever coach (Frank Vogel) needs me, that’s what I’m going to do. I just made some shots today, played good defense and coach was rolling with me. Either way it go, I’m going to give my all out there every time I get on the court and be what I need to be for this team – tough, knock down shots.”
Morris had scored a total of 19 points in his previous six 2020 playoff games for the Lakers. He had played just nine minutes in Game 1 against the Rockets on Friday night and didn’t score, missing his only field-goal attempt, which was a three-pointer. He didn’t have any rebounds or assists.
Basically, Morris was not a factor in the first game.
“Last game, I felt like I didn’t effect at all and it’s not even just making shots,” Morris said. “I just felt like I didn’t do anything. I felt like I didn’t rebound the ball. I felt like I could be a little more aggressive. I feel like this is the best series for me to play a lot of minutes, and I fit the small-ball mode for this team.”
Though Morris scored just two points in the second half, his driving layup off a pass from Rajon Rondo tied the score at 94-94, putting the Lakers in a situation in which they never lost the lead again.
“Markieff was spectacular off the bench, giving us that instant offense with just his grit,” LeBron James said on a videoconference with reporters after the game. “We love having him on the floor. But he was unbelievable for us in that (first) quarter.”
When the Rockets made another charge at the Lakers in the fourth, Morris became the rebounder of the moment.
After Eric Gordon missed a three-pointer that could have trimmed the Lakers’ lead to five points, Morris claimed the defensive rebound.
After P.J. Tucker missed yet another three-pointer that could have cut the Lakers’ lead to five points, Morris collected that rebound too.
And then after James Harden miss one more three-pointer that could have sliced the Lakers’ lead to seven points, Morris grabbed that rebound as well.
“We just had to emphasis that,” Morris said about rebounding the basketball. “They are small, scrappy guys. They are going to scrap. We just got to scrap with them. We emphasized blocking out those corner crashes and we did that. We got to continue to do things like that. It’s the small things that’s going to win the series for us.”