State your emergency: Lee and 3's

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
12:12
AM ET
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesCourtney Lee is starting to settle into his role in Boston.
Fresh off his best all-around performance in a Celtics uniform on Friday night, Courtney Lee took to Twitter to playfully lament his missing 3-point shot with a back-and-forth from a fictional emergency call. Wrote Lee:
911: What's the problem?
Me: Like to report a missing 3-[point] shot.
911: Where was it last seen?
Me: Houston, TX
911: Gym flow

Lee is a proven marksman from beyond the 3-point arc, having shot better than 40 percent there in three of his first four NBA seasons. The Celtics pushed hard for him this offseason, despite financial limitations, because of his Ray Allen-like ability to stroke the corner 3.

But through 16 games, Lee was a mere 5-of-23 shooting beyond the 3-point arc (a cringe-worthy 21.7 percent) and really struggling from the wings (four of those five triples came from the corner).

What’s more, his scoring average was down six points from last season (albeit in less floor time), even though his field goal percentage was up overall (those missed 3-pointers dragging down his scoring output).

Lee’s personal struggles have been eased by (1) his rock-solid defense and (2) a coach who has full confidence that those 3-point shots will start falling soon.

So it should come as no surprise to see both Lee and the Boston bench exult a bit when, on Saturday night in Milwaukee, he splashed a corner 3-pointer late in the first quarter of a tough-to-swallow 91-88 loss to the Bucks.

“His shots will fall,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said on Friday night. “I feel it’s like with Avery Bradley] last year, where I kept telling [reporters], ‘Avery can shoot’ and you guys were looking at me like I was a Martian. And then he started making them. And Courtney is proving he can. He’s getting wide-open ones, and eventually they’ll fall.”

Lee has routinely been one of the last players off the practice floor for the Celtics, often going through an extended shooting routine after Boston’s off-day workouts.

Early-season struggles might have left him a bit timid, but Rivers implored him to remain aggressive and said good things would happen.

During Friday’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers, Lee drew a spot start for suspended Rajon Rondo and filled up his stat line while registering 10 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals over 37 minutes.

Yes, he missed both 3-pointers he put up, but that didn’t detract from his effort. Lee helped smother Portland rookie point guard Damian Lillard and deny the Blazers’ perimeter shooters as Boston got back to its defensive roots in a lopsided win.

“I was just going out there trying to make plays for myself and for my teammates,” said Lee. “Doc wanted me to be aggressive -- I know he hasn’t taken me out of the game for trying to get a steal, or shooting a bad shot when I do shoot a bad one. I felt like I was just trying to be in the right spots, help my teammates out, and credit those guys that helped me out. I was able to make plays.”

Lee seems to have identified that it’s his defense that is going to be key to consistent playing time. And he’s been spectacular on that end.

According to Synergy Sports data, Lee was allowing a mere 0.704 points per play entering Saturday’s action, which ranked him in the 91st percentile among all NBA players. His marks were the best individual numbers of any Celtics player, and by a wide margin (Paul Pierce was next in allowing 0.743 points per play, ranking in the 83rd percentile).

Lee chipped in 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting with three rebounds and two assists over 39:21 in Milwaukee on Saturday. His defense helped limit Bucks guards Monta Ellis (17 points) and Brandon Jennings (13 points) to modest numbers.

Maintaining that defensive intensity will be key in order for Lee to maintain a big role moving forward, particularly once Rondo is back from suspension and Avery Bradley returns from double shoulder surgery.

But Rivers very much likes the progress Lee is making as he settles in.

“You can see Courtney is getting better and better at what we’re asking him to do,” said Rivers. “He’s bought in completely, you can see that.”

Now he just needs those 3-pointers to start falling. Then it will be opponents who will be left making all the distress calls.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jeff Green
PTS AST STL MIN
16.9 1.7 0.7 34.2
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Sullinger 8.1
AssistsR. Rondo 9.8
StealsR. Rondo 1.3
BlocksB. Bass 0.9