LeBron James: Brad Stevens praise is overblown

2018 NBA Playoffs

Cooper USA TODAY Sports

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However, things are a lot different on the court for the four-time MVP victor when he is marked by one certain Celtics star, and it will be interesting to see if Boston's head coach Brad Stevens utilizes him in this way. Now that he's returning to the Eastern Conference finals for the second straight season, again against Cleveland, the Celtics coach remains very aware of the standard he's chasing.

Morris ranked 78th out of 90 power forwards in ESPN's defensive real plus-minus and 75th among all forwards in defensive win shares this season, per NBA.com. "He's breaking records every single day". "Brad Stevens ability to get the most out of his guys".

"Our guys really embrace that".

"We look forward to the challenge", James said.

It wouldn't be a major surprise, given the form of Celtics' mainstay Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and, especially, rookie Jayson Tatum, if LeBron failed to make it to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.

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The Cavaliers are 1.5-point favorites, with the over-under for total points scored set at 203.5. But following a roster upheaval in February, the Cavs were left with only five players from last year's team that rolled past the Celtics 4-1 to earn a place in the NBA Finals.

The Toronto Raptors fired Dwane Casey just days after he was named the 2017-2018 Coach of the Year. Why? And when the conference finals move to Cleveland on May 19 for Game 3 - the Celtics' first visit to Quicken Loans Arena since Hayward's gruesome opening night injury - this nascent core will attempt to again carry this veteran load. Can Marcus Smart hit on more than 32 percent of his shot attempts, as he did last May? Against a guy like LeBron, it's the team.

When it was suggested that Smart has filled the old man's role for his younger teammates, the 24-year-old laughed. "We can't have [James' supporting cast] having 30-point games and 20-point games, and I think that gives us the best chance to win, because he's going to do what he's going to do, but as long as we make it tough for him and don't give up the easy ones". "Just staying in attack mode, miss or make on the offensive end, making the right decision playing hard and then on both ends on the glass just trying to clean up as best I can". Without the Shaker Heights graduate, it's unlikely the Celtics find adequate production in the backcourt to sustain their season.

"We understand he's going to make some insane plays". With as much of a team effort as we've seen in recent years, they've proven the non-believers wrong every step of the way.

Only Bill Russell (10), Sam Jones (9), Tommy Heinsohn (9) and Frank Ramsey (8) have played in more consecutive Finals than James, who said he hasn't reflected on the possibility of admission to their group. "I'm sure he'll talk to our players individually". With Simmons as the only lead ballhandler in the starting lineup, the Celtics rendered the Sixers' offense useless. And as James nears the end of his 15th season, the gap between him and the rest of the East has arguably never felt greater. And he knows that his players have fed off the perception that they can't be competitive while playing without injured All-Stars Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. They roll out, they'll have five guys out there at all times who all can play.

Perhaps Morris was reflecting on some of first words he heard from Danny Ainge upon joining the Celtics.

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