The Unveiling Of “Playoff Markieff”
[John Wall and Markieff Morris share the podium after Game 1. Photo – A. Rubin]
After practice on Saturday afternoon, Scott Brooks was asked about Markieff Morris’ excitement level entering his first career playoff game:
“He’s excited. He’s never been to a playoff series… He’s not one guy to jump up and down and show a lot of enthusiasm but you can see it in his preparation that he’s ready and he’s focused.”
Markieff, in his matter-of-fact manner, downplayed any excitement talk. Morris said he is the same guy on the eve of Game 1 as he was the night before the first game of the season. As it turns out, Morris may not have been entirely truthful. After Washington’s Game 1 victory – where Markieff earned the honor of sharing the podium with John Wall – Morris opened up about his first playoff experience:
“Intensity was sky high the whole game. John told me it was going to be like that so we just have to raise our play and play as hard as possible… I jumped in head first. I was tired. I know that much. Like I said, the intensity was sky high. But you know I’m always a relaxed guy so just playing in the moment, staying in the moment, giving everything I’ve got until the clock hits zero.”
It’s a good thing Morris came ready to play because the postseason is all about match-ups and his match-up with Paul Millsap is one of the most important in the series. The last time Washington played Atlanta in the playoffs, Nene and Paul Pierce covered Millsap and Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer predictably ordered up a steady diet of isolations and pick and rolls. The Wizards had no answer.
In Markieff, Washington has the versatile power forward it always wanted. He can score inside and out, and he’s equally as dedicated on the defensive end of the floor. Count John Wall among the Wizards’ faithful who are ecstatic to have him:
“Like I said last year when we first got him, I was excited. He changed everything right away for us. We didn’t have to double team in the post in anymore. If any team had a four man that could score, we could go right back to him and he could score on the perimeter, score in the post.”
Morris’ ability to defend Millsap straight up is the key to Washington’s defensive game-plan against Atlanta. The Hawks’ offense is at its best when they whip the ball around the perimeter and find open shooters and cutters. Aside from Millsap, they do not have any dangerous isolation scorers. Paul is also a great passer and the second-most important facilitator on the team (behind Dennis Schröder), so if Atlanta’s ball movement is cutoff once the ball hits Millsap in the post, their entire offense unravels.
Scott Brooks revealed after the team’s final practice before Game 1 that he has some schemes to get Millsap off his spot and take the ball out his hands, but he would rather not use them. He prefers to play Millsap one-on-one:
“It just goes back to when you first started playing. You got to guard the guy in front of you. That’s your man, you go to stay with him and if you need help your four teammates and your buddies will be there to help you but it all starts with guarding your man and I think Kieff has that mentality.”
Markieff took the challenge personally and bodied up Millsap right from the opening tip. In what could have been a disastrous turn of events, Morris picked up a shooting foul on Millsap only 17 seconds into the game. However, he maintained his composure and stayed out of foul trouble the rest of the game.
Millsap was clearly frustrated by Markieff’s physical play and the two got testy on several occasions as they jockeyed for position in the paint. Tensions boiled over at the end of the first half after Millsap fouled Morris on a three-point attempt with 0.1 seconds remaining. As Markieff shot his final free throw, Millsap yelled to the ref, “He’s on the line,” indicating that Morris’s right foot was touching the charity stripe. Markieff responded with a forceful, “Shut up,” which may or may not have been punctuated by an expletive. The two started jawing at each other before going their separate ways to the locker room.
Millsap (to ref): "He's on the line!"
Markieff: "Shut up [possible expletive]."
— Ledell's Place (@LedellsPlace) April 17, 2017
Markieff’s contributions were not limited to the defensive end. After hitting the aforementioned three free throws to cut Washington’s halftime deficit to 48-45, Morris started the third quarter by hitting a 3-pointer to set the second half tone. He ended with 21 points on 8-for-19 shooting.
After the game, Millsap voiced his displeasure with Washington’s physicality – even though he shot a game-high 11 free throws: “The difference in the game was we were playing basketball and they were playing MMA.”
Unfortunately for Millsap, it does not sound like anything is going to change in Game 2. “Playoff Markieff” is here to stay. “The ball is like gold now – every possession counts, so I’m going head first every play,” Morris said.
Wall, with Morris sitting on the podium beside him, let everyone know how valuable this version of Morris can be: “When he’s playing as well as he did today for us, we are unstoppable.”
Long live Playoff Markieff.
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