Commentary

Courtney Lee finding himself

Celtics newcomer can help team most by simply playing his game

Updated: October 17, 2012, 1:38 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- After a lackluster debut in Boston's exhibition opener in Istanbul, Courtney Lee received some ridiculously simple advice from coach Doc Rivers: Be yourself.

Rivers noticed some hesitation in Lee's game. Part of that could be attributed to trying to identify his role alongside established veterans Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Another part of it was a hip injury Lee had been nursing at the start of training camp.

[+] EnlargeCourtney Lee
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireCourtney Lee continued his progress in fitting in with the Celtics with 13 points and four assists against the Nets.

But Rivers didn't want Lee to start overthinking things, so he offered some basic, yet blunt, advice.

"That first preseason game, I was trying too hard to fit in. I wasn't myself; I wasn't being aggressive at all," Lee said. "Doc came to me and said, 'That hurts the team.' He needs me to be out there, to play my game, and he needs me to be aggressive. Just make the right plays."

Pegged as the likely starting shooting guard while Avery Bradley recovers from double shoulder surgery, Lee is gaining confidence in a new environment. He returned to the starting lineup Tuesday night, and responded by chipping in 13 points, four assists, two rebounds and a steal over 32:31 in Boston's 97-96 exhibition loss to the Brooklyn Nets at TD Garden.

Lee sees the benefits of running with the first unit.

"You've got Rondo; he's out there anchoring the team," Lee said. "You've got KG and you've got Paul, so you know guys are going to respect them and they're going to draw a lot of attention. It makes my job a lot easier. All I've got to do is make sure I'm going to knock down that shot when I'm wide open in the corner, then just play defense and just get out and run."

That's exactly what Lee did Tuesday. He got ahead on the break and was able to convert some buckets in transition (and got to the free throw line when he didn't). His 3-point shot has been erratic to start the preseason (2-of-8), but he knocked one down against the Nets and couldn't help but exult a bit.

"I wasn't shooting the ball well," Lee said. "So when I got one, it was kind of a relief. It just shows that … one of the things Doc and this team focuses on is trusting each other. Rondo, he kept coming to me and he hit me on that open pass, and I hit the shot. To me, it symbolized all of that. My shot wasn't falling, we stuck with it and Rondo kept coming to me."

And Lee's little celebration heading back up the court after the trifecta?

"I don't have a title for it -- I kiss both my fists, hit my heart and point to the sky," Lee said. "I haven't done it since college. But I was in some zone today. It rounded back out. I haven't done it in a while."

Lee believes his role will continue to come into focus with more practice time and more game situations alongside his new teammates. Rivers agrees.

"I just think it's always difficult when new guys come in here," Rivers said. "And it's not the system; it's that they are playing next to Paul and Kevin and Rondo. They're trying to figure out, 'When should I shoot? Is this a good shot for me?' So that just takes time."

Echoed Jason Terry, "Everybody's going to find their niche here, and again, it's a long season, it's a process. But we're just kind of ironing out the wrinkles."

Rondo sees those wrinkles fading.

"[Lee is] getting better every game," Rondo said. "He's getting confidence, he started some games, he's come off the bench some games. Whatever Doc has asked from him, he's always played well and played hard, so that's all we can ask for."

The Celtics worked a three-team, sign-and-trade deal to ink Lee to a four-year, $21.5 million contract this offseason. The team initially didn't think it had the resources to land Lee, but a creative trade package and a chance meeting with Rivers helped bring him to Boston.

Rivers has gushed about Lee's potential.

"I think he does a lot of things well that help our team," Rivers said. "He can play multiple positions, terrific shooter, terrific defender, terrific team player. He does a lot for us."

He just has to be himself.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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