Darius Morris defends against Ben Gordon of the Bobcats. (Paul Buck / EPA )
When Kobe Bryant was asked about the Lakers comeback, he credited a player whose performance didn't stand out on the stat sheet.
"Our bench came in and did a fantastic job," Bryant said. "Darius Morris is a fantastic defender."
Morris finished with an unassuming seven points on three-for-six shooting, four rebounds and three assists in the Lakers' 101-100 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Tuesday evening, but his contribution to the team extended far beyond those numbers.
Morris played hard-nosed defense against the Bobcats, forcing a few key plays late in the game that helped the Lakers overcome an 18-point second-half deficit.
In one play in the third quarter, Morris smothered Ben Gordon, who proceeded to pick up his dribble and throw the ball out of bounds.
"It really energized us," Morris acknowledged. "We got a bucket on the other end."
In another play in the third quarter, Morris forced a 24-second violation by attaching himself like glue to Kemba Walker.
"He didn't get a shot off," Morris said.
Morris' defense was pivotal to the Lakers' 30-4 run, which began midway through the third quarter and extended to the top of the fourth.
"Before I even started playing, they told me that's what I got to do, just really play on the defensive end," Morris said. "That's what we're missing and that's how I can be valuable to the team."
Morris acknowledged that defense wasn't always his top priority. Last season, as a rookie, he poured his energy into the offensive end.
"I probably focused on that a little more, just trying to prove myself with a chip on my shoulder," Morris said of scoring. "But this year, having some offensive success makes it easier now to just kind of step back and really focus on [the defensive] end of the court."
Morris said that he worked out with Metta World Peace, a former Defensive Player of the Year, during this past off-season.
"He's given me tips on my angles on defense," Morris said. "That little bit that he's given me has really helped me, like watching the defender's waist instead of the ball really has helped me."
Morris finished Tuesday's game with a +20 rating, proving that his new-found concentration can have a big effect on his team.
"Defense, you can bring that every night," he said. "Not every day are you going to hit your shots."
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