PHOENIX — After coming off the bench to score 18 points in the Celtics’ win over the Pistons on Oct. 27, forward Marcus Morris was asked if he felt healthier this season.
“You liked that two-handed dunk, didn’t you?” he said, referring to his slam early in the second quarter, one that might not have come quite as easily a year ago.
At 29, Morris is off to perhaps the best start of his eight-year career. Through 10 games, he is averaging 14.7 points and 6.9 rebounds while making 51 percent of his shots, 49 percent of his 3-pointers, and 86.4 percent of his free throws. All five of those marks would be career highs. With Morris on the court, the Celtics have a respectable 106.0 offensive rating, and when he sits, that mark plummets to 99.5, an on/off gap that is wider than Kyrie Irving’s.
Morris says his scorching start and noticeable nimbleness are the results of a long offseason in which he put a greater emphasis on flexibility, deep-tissue massage, and meditation.
“As you get more seasoned and you get older, you tend to pay more attention to the little things that can give you the edge, and to his credit, he’s taken advantage of it,” assistant coach Jerome Allen said. “Now, this is just the canvas where he’s splattering all the preparation that he put in.”
Morris began working with Anneisha Campbell, a licensed massage therapist, about four years ago. But at the start, he would mostly call her when he was sore or his body felt tight.
Then last year he struggled through knee pain at times, and as he began to inch toward 30, he saw that his flexibility was waning a bit.
“So after last year I became a bit more assertive,” Campbell said. “I told him if he wanted to really take care of his body and see a difference, he had to get serious. I said, ‘Here’s some things I can do that can actually help you.’ ”
This summer Campbell worked with Morris five days a week for two or three hours a day, alternating between two primary types of treatment. The first, fascial stretch therapy, is a deep and slow-moving 90-minute massage focused on “unraveling the fascia web” in Morris’s legs. Campbell would then conclude with a shorter massage focused on general areas of pain or soreness. The second approach is more of a static stretching session. Morris lies down on a mat rather than on a table and undergoes numerous techniques using resistance bands to improve his flexibility.
Morris’s responsibilities during these sessions are minimal, so he now uses the time as a chance to practice meditative breathing.
“It just helps me work on slowing my body down, slowing the mind down a little bit,” Morris said. “All the stretching is a lot, it takes a lot of time, but I want my career to last as long as possible.”
Campbell noticed that last season, Morris constantly fell to the floor after taking jump shots. It appeared to her that he was trying to avoid landing on his sore knee and was putting too much pressure on the other leg. She told him that if he kept falling like that, he would injure himself even more.
“This season, he’s been light on his feet,” Campbell said, “and when he comes down he’s been landing instead of falling. So that’s a good sign.”
Campbell watches Celtics games, and the next day will usually text Morris to tell him what she noticed about his gait or jumping or areas where he looked tight. She still travels to work with him twice a month during the season.
Morris said the difference this year has been noticeable. Now, when he takes jumpers, he is able to bend into the shot more comfortably, allowing him to elevate more cleanly. And he said his quadriceps muscles and ankles and shoulders feel more flexible than ever.
“I can get way more loose in a shorter period of time,” Morris said. “It normally would take me longer to warm up in the game, and now a couple plays down and I’m loose already. It’s all been really good for me.”