BOSTON — Parse the details all you like, from
screen-and-roll execution to shooting percentages, but the Celtics offense has
added a simple wrinkle that could do wonders this season. And it is largely due
to Courtney Lee.
Lee's uncomplicated contribution: running.
Yes, running. By simply taking off downcourt as soon as the
Celtics secure a rebound or turnover, the 27-year-old combo guard turned at
least two of Boston's exhibition games into track meets. Straightforward as
that is, the Celtics seldom got easy baskets in that manner last season.
"I kind of knew their situation last year, when they
thought they played a little too slow," Lee said. "They worked a lot
of halfcourt sets, and they said they want to get easy ones. That meant getting
buckets in transition. That's something I like to do. I like to get out and
run, so playing with [Rajon] Rondo, he's going to find you every time."
Rondo has looked almost giddy at times when he runs up the
court and, instead of finding himself running all by himself like he did last
year, he sees Lee either beside or ahead of him. Rondo has long been a
fast break-style point guard trapped in a system that has to stay at a
deliberate pace to accommodate the veteran stars around him, but that could
change this season with the additions of Jeff Green and Lee — but especially
"I'm going to make sure we get the stop," Lee
said. "Once I see that we secure the ball, I'm out."
Lee's hustle is not confined to offense, either. During
Saturday's game against the Knicks, the Celtics spent long stretches doing
nothing but recovering on defense after committing one of their 20 turnovers,
and Celtics coach Doc Rivers put together a video of his team's efforts to get
back on defense in that game. It was the ultimate effort to make highlights out
The video showed several Celtics players sprinting back on
defense, and the star of the group was Lee.
"Those are the little things, when you look at our
team, that you love," Rivers said. "We showed them seven turnovers
before the game, and Courtney Lee is incredible how he gets back and saves the
play. Jeff had two. Jet [Jason Terry] had one. They don't give up on plays.
That'll bode well."
Lee has played with a variety of point guards in his four
professional seasons. He started with pick-and-roll specialist Jameer Nelson in
Orlando and last season in Houston he got a workout alongside Kyle Lowry, who pushed
the pace with as much vigor as Rondo. One of the criticisms of Lee's game is
that he is cannot create his own shot, but his success with so many different
types of floor generals shows that Lee does not need to dominate the ball to
find ways to score.
In fact, that is a shared trait among the Celtics guards
this season. Avery Bradley made a mark offensively by cutting without the ball
last season, and Terry built his career on finding scoring opportunities on
plays that were not called specifically for him. With Rondo likely to handle
the ball whenever he is on the court, the Celtics need crafty scorers like
Bradley and Terry. Neither needs the ball in his hands to cause problems for
the defense. Lee acknowledges and even prides himself on the fact that he is an
opportunistic scorer as well.
"You've got to play the game," Lee said. "If
the defense sags off and gives me the three, I'm going to shoot it. If they
pressure me, I'm going to drive it to the hole. You've got to pretty much play
the game and see what the defense is giving you."
So far, the knockdown corner 3-point shooter the Celtics
hoped they were getting in Lee has not shown up. The "corner three"
is one of the most popular shots among coaches, since it is only 22 feet from
the hoop and therefore is one of the most efficient shots in the NBA. Once he
becomes comfortable with the new system and his new teammates, the Celtics hope
Lee starts draining the long balls with regularity again. Until his stroke
reappears, Lee simply will run for daylight to get the one shot that is even
more efficient that a corner three — a wide-open layup — and much easier to