Commentary

Courtney Lee dialed in on O and D

Updated: March 17, 2013, 1:40 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Informed after Saturday's win over the Charlotte Bobcats that he had posted a career-high three blocks, Boston Celtics guard Courtney Lee smiled and playfully offered, "I did my thing, didn't I?"

He did. But truth be told, he couldn't remember the third block. And that alone speaks volumes about his effort. Lee crammed so much excellence into 33 minutes of action that it was impossible to remember it all.

Lee scored 12 points on efficient 5-of-7 shooting, while adding five rebounds, four assists and zero turnovers. He was a team-best plus-20 and fueled a late third-quarter run that tore the game open as Boston atoned for a brutal loss earlier this week in Charlotte with a breezy 105-88 triumph on Saturday night at TD Garden.

[+] EnlargeCourtney Lee
AP Photo/Michael DwyerCourtney Lee produced a solid all-around effort Saturday, highlighted by three blocked shots.

Lee was solid defensively (despite some struggles with emerging Celtics villain Gerald Henderson), particularly in harassing Ben Gordon, whose shot he blocked three times. According to Synergy Sports data, Lee allowed just eight points over 11 defensive plays -- a solid 0.727 points per possession -- all while helping Boston limit the damage done by Charlotte guards (shutting off the dribble penetration that had plagued Boston in the previous meetings).

"[Lee gave a] great lift on both ends of the floor. … Courtney played a great game," backcourt mate Avery Bradley said. "He brought that energy."

The Celtics would like to bottle that energy. Lee has performed admirably, particularly since being thrust into a starting role when Rajon Rondo was lost for the season, but his numbers haven't always reflected it.

Even after Saturday's big effort, Boston is plus-43 this season with Lee on the bench and minus-14 when he's on the court. There's a nearly 3½-point differential for the team's defensive rating (points per 100 possessions) when Lee is on the floor (101) and when he's off (97.5).

Maybe a bit surprisingly, it's the team's offensive numbers that have seen the biggest boost with Lee on the court. He struggled with his 3-point shot early in the season, but has improved lately, and Boston's offensive rating is nearly two points above its season average when he's on the floor.

But Lee knows it's the defense that has to be his calling card, particularly when playing alongside Bradley.

"There's always room for improvement," Lee said. "We're not holding anybody to zero. You can always improve, especially me."

Later he added, "My job is just to make it as tough as possible on [opponents]. Some nights, I do a good job of that, and other nights it might be on for them, offensively."

After Henderson erupted for a career-high 35 points on Tuesday in Charlotte, Lee took Saturday's rematch as a personal challenge. Foul trouble made Lee a spectator at times on Tuesday and, while Henderson got him early for a couple of hoops on Saturday, the Charlotte guard finished with a manageable 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting overall.

Any points he gave up, Lee earned back on the other end of the floor. That included making three straight jumpers to spark an 11-2 burst that saw Boston turn a tenuous six-point lead into a comfortable 15-point cushion midway through the third quarter. Lee's 3-pointer to cap the run had the Celtics out front 70-55 with five minutes to go in the frame, and the lead ballooned as high as 26 (while never falling below double figures).

That allowed Lee to spend much of the fourth quarter on the bench, cheering on his teammates. Boston's starters reveled after each highlight play by the reserves stretched the lead a little bit more.

At one point, Celtics captain Paul Pierce took to playfully bumping his teammates near the bench in mock celebration. One of those love-shoves sent an unsuspecting Lee barreling to the parquet floor and into the first row of fans beyond the baseline.

"Oh man, we were celebrating for our teammates and he sniped me," Lee said. "He sniped me. I think David Stern has to fine him for that."

He added: 'If you didn't know, Paul weighs like 265. Me, I'm only 210. He's gotta get fined for that."

Lee doesn't mind taking a spill if it means the Celtics are enjoying a comfortable lead. And when he plays like he did on Saturday, there's a better chance of that happening for Boston.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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