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Courtney Lee at work for the Celtics during their game in Milan on Sunday.When Courtney Lee rose to the rim for a thunderous one-handed dunk in the first quarter of the Celtics' 105-75 thrashing of Armani Milano on Sunday, it was hard not to believe there might have been a bit of frustration released as the ball slashed through the net.
Lee's outing on Sunday was very much what the Celtics are looking for from him -- 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting, two rebounds, an assist and steady defense -- and a much better example of the type of player he is compared to the outing he had in Boston's preseason opener last Friday, a 97-91 loss to Fenerbahce Ulker.
Friday saw Lee begin the game in the starting lineup, but he promptly seemed out of place, as he looked uncomfortable in the offense and less than effective on the opposite side of the ball. He missed open shots and picked up five personal fouls in the second quarter alone. It was head-scratching at first, given Lee's overall talent level and history of being a productive player for the three other NBA teams he's played for. But when the context was considered -- new team, new system, playing alongside four already in-tune teammates and dealing with a minor hip issue -- Friday could be summed up as a necessary burden more than anything else. Get the adjusting pains out of the way early and come back with a stronger performance on Sunday.
Which is exactly what Lee did.
Even though he came off the bench on Sunday and played fewer minutes with the starters, Lee looked far more at ease within Boston's sets, attacking the rim consistently and showing off the athleticism that will allow coach Doc Rivers to utilize him in multiple scenarios this season. Rivers said after the game that the lineup change -- Jason Terry and Jared Sullinger replacing Lee and Brandon Bass, respectively, in the starting lineup -- was simply a product of it being preseason and nothing else.
Lee did share the court with the red-hot Rajon Rondo for the final minutes of the opening quarter, and perhaps most encouraging was the fact that Lee's dunk came off a sharp cut and slick feed from Rondo. Chemistry between these two will be vital for Boston, particularly if Lee fills the starting shooting guard spot for the entire season. While the duo looked out of sync on Friday, Sunday's dunk served as a reminder that they can still find harmony on the court, and Lee's athleticism and quickness should complement Rondo's penchant for sleek passes at difficult angles that other point guards can't make.
Add in a few determined drives to the rim, a jumper from the right elbow and a slick up-and-under layup off of a left baseline drive in the fourth quarter, and Sunday was a much better showcase for Lee and what he could mean to his team this season.
While Rivers will continue to tinker with his lineups with six preseason games to go, getting Lee on the same page as his other starters will likely be a focus leading up to the regular season. Terry proved he'll deliver the instant offense he advertised and Rivers will want to keep that weapon as his sixth man. That puts an even greater focus on Lee's chemistry with the starters. For if they can be as productive as a unit as they've been in years past, the Celtics, collectively, will reap the benefits.