WALTHAM — About a week ago Doc Rivers and Courtney Lee sat down for a conversation. The coach wanted Lee not to think so much, to be more aggressive, and so he made sure the 27-year-old knew that.
In the ensuing week, Lee has put up some of his best performances in a Celtics uniform, including an exceptional all-around game against the Trail Blazers Friday, crucial with Rajon Rondo serving the first game of his two-game suspension.
“He said, ‘We know you’re going to play hard on the defensive end, we just need you to play with the same energy and focus on the offensive end,’ ” Lee said after practice Monday. “That was enough said there.”
Rondo’s absence has helped Lee take Rivers’s advice to heart, giving him additional minutes in which to put it into effect. But with Rondo returning to practice this week, and back in the lineup for Wednesday night’s game against the Timberwolves, Lee will have to figure out how to continue to contribute in a lesser role.
“It’s not hard at all,” Lee said. “Just whenever you get out there, the minutes that you get, you’ve just got to perform. That’s my mind-set when I get out there, just be as aggressive as possible.”
But even though Lee will have to adjust back to getting less time on the court, he has demonstrated just how effective he can be.
In his time with the Celtics, he had shown his abilities as a defensive player, but it hadn’t all come together offensively for him. Usually a good 3-point shooter, Lee hadn’t been that with the Celtics (6 of 25 on the season).
“If I can go out there and get a defensive stop, get a steal, get in the passing lane, get out and get a dunk, that’s going to get anybody’s blood flowing,” Lee said. “So that’s what I try to do. I let the defense dictate my offense.”
And, especially in the past week, it has worked. After that conversation with Rivers, Lee seems to have a better handle on just what his new team is looking for from him.
Rivers made a point of comparing Lee’s shot to Avery Bradley’s last season, when the coach insisted that Bradley’s shooting would improve, despite no indications that it would — and it did.
“People are beginning to understand how fast he is in transition, getting two or three layups, and-ones a game,” assistant coach Armond Hill said. “Defensively he’s been terrific, getting back in defensive transition.
“He’s playing harder on both ends of the floor and he’s playing, Doc had mentioned, like he was as a rookie. You can see that speed and enthusiasm that he has.”
Lee’s 10 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals in 37 minutes Friday night helped lead the Celtics to a 96-78 home win over Portland. He had 13 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists in 39 minutes in Saturday night’s 91-88 loss to the Bucks in Milwaukee.
“I was just trying to find things to go out there and help the team, whether it’s rebounding, defense, trying to get steals,” Lee said. “Now, speaking with Doc, we have a clear understanding. So now I can just go out there and play freely.”
There were a few players missing from Monday’s practice, given the day off by Rivers, who also was not at practice. The “35-and-older” group got the additional rest, with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry excused. As Lee put it, “We let the older guys, the guys in the 35-and-above group, get another day so they can rest their bodies. So that’s always good when those guys can refurbish themselves.” Jeff Green said that without Garnett, especially, practice was “a lot quieter.” Leandro Barbosa was also out, though his absence was because of illness, leaving the Celtics with only seven players on the court . . . Rivers told his staff on the plane ride back from Milwaukee that he would not be at Monday’s practice after giving the team the day off Sunday. Hill filled in for Rivers.
The Celtics spent a lot of time working on defending the pick-and-roll in practice, after struggling against it Saturday night, especially in the second quarter, in which the Bucks scored 36 points. “We’re getting better and we can see that guys are reacting more, reacting quicker to what their responsibilities are,” Hill said. “Most of the time the pick-and-roll is the main thing that you’ve got to try to get better at and we’re doing different things as far as our defense.” . . . Kris Joseph, who was up from the Maine Red Claws of the D-League during Rondo’s suspension, was sent back to Maine.Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.