Courtney Lee gets a jumper up against the Pacers.For Boston Celtics guard Courtney Lee, Friday's 13-point, five-rebound effort was a welcome sign more for the fulfillment of a set role and place in Doc Rivers' rotation than for the numerical totals.
Lee came off the bench and tallied 23 minutes in Boston's convincing 94-75 victory over the Pacers, often serving as backup point guard when Rajon Rondo was off the floor. The result was a more decisive effort that saw him attack the basket, pull up for jump shots, and make an overall impact that the team knew he was capable of delivering but wasn't necessarily seeing on a consistent basis.
Lee, perhaps more than any other Celtics player, fell victim to the constant lineup changes that plagued this team for the first portion of the season. His frequent shuffling between the starting lineup and the second unit constantly altered what the team needed from him, and often hindered his ability to apply his diverse game. After serving as one of the Houston Rockets' primary scorers last season, Lee admitted before Friday's bout that adjusting to his reduced role in Boston has been more difficult than he initially anticipated it would be.
"I mean I just had to get comfortable playing with the players that we have on this team," Lee said. "I came from Houston where me and Goran Dragic both were playing 35 minutes and we had Luis Scola and we were pretty much the scoring load, and Kevin Martin, also. So we were pretty much all the scorers.
"And then coming here, you've got [Kevin Garnett], you've got Paul Pierce], you've got [Rajon Rondo, who's going to have the ball in his hands a lot, so, just had to get back used to playing without the ball, running the sets, and not being involved in some of the sets as much as I was last year. So, it's an adjustment."
The return of Avery Bradley will likely set Lee in a permanent bench role, and that consistency could grant him the freedom he needs to be more productive moving forward. Though he has filled in as a starter at times this season, Lee said coming off the bench gives him the opportunity to observe the game first and better prepares him for how to play when he enters.
"Just being able to watch the game and see how the flow of the game's going and seeing what areas that we're lacking on, whether it be the defensive end or the offensive end if it's energy or pushing the tempo or getting out and running," Lee said of observing from the bench first. "You can see all those things. You're pretty much the coach's eyes over there. You can see it. As far as when you're playing, you don't notice a lot of things. So you can see it and then when you get in you can try to make those adjustments."
Lee scored his first points Friday on a jumper from the left elbow, followed that up with a dunk inside to start the second frame, and then helped to corral an offensive rebound later in the quarter that he turned into a short floater.
"I was just being aggressive," Lee said. "We practiced that way. Doc told me that's how he wanted me to play in practice and it carried over from there."
Lee had shown signs of improvement in recent weeks, though they likely went unnoticed as the Celtics struggled through a four-game losing streak. Over his last five games, including Friday, Lee has averaged 10.2 points on 48.8 percent shooting from the field.
And now that his role is becoming more solidified and he's finding a better comfort within Boston's system, he stands a better shot at being a legitimate weapon for the Celtics off the bench.
"You know, Courtney's really been playing well as of late, the last few weeks," Pierce said. "I think he's starting to understand what we need from him. He's picking his spots, he's getting to where he's going to get his shots from, he's playing terrific defense, he's getting out in the lanes running on offense. So, I think he's getting more and more familiar, more and more comfortable with the system and he's going to get better as time goes on."