Irish Coffee: Jason Terry, Courtney Lee still searching for magic potion in Celtics’ backcourt chemistry experiment
|10.17.12 at 12:08 pm ET|
If you look at their production during the preseason, newest Celtics guards Courtney Lee and Jason Terry appear headed in different directions in terms of adjusting to their new team, but both are confident they’ll end up in the same place when the NBA season starts on Oct. 30 — meshing their strengths into an established system.
“We’re not worried about that,” said Terry. “Right now, we’re just trying to execute what [Celtics coach] Doc [Rivers] lays out there for us, and we know that part of our game will come here shortly. We’ve got three games in a short amount of time to get right and get ready and prepare.”
After struggling in the C’s 97-91 loss to Istanbul’s Fenerbahce Ulker to start the preseason, Lee’s comfort level has steadily progressed, culminating in his most extended minutes (33) and most complete performance (13 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 block) during a 97-96 loss to the Nets on Tuesday night. It marked his third start in five preseason games and his third double-digit scoring output in the four games since the opener.
“I was trying too hard to fit in,” Lee said of his early struggles. Obviously, a collision with Fab Melo‘s shoulder that left him with a deep right thigh contusion and kept him out of the C’s unofficial practices from Sept. 6 to the start of training camp didn’t help. “I wasn’t myself. I wasn’t being aggressive at all.
“Doc came to me and said that hurts the team. He needs me to play my game, be aggressive and make the right plays. The more practice we get and the more games we play, I’m getting more and more comfortable with that.”
Lee’s game is simple: Run the floor, defend the wing and make open shots. Not easy, but simple. And it’s made even simpler in his role as the team’s starting shooting guard in Avery Bradley‘s absence.
“From my vantage point, you’ve got [Rajon] Rondo — he’s out there anchoring the team — you’ve got KG [Kevin Garnett] and you’ve got Paul [Pierce], so you know guys are going to respect them, and they’re going to draw a lot of attention,” Lee said. “So, it makes my job a lot easier. All I’ve got to do is make sure I knock down that shot when I’m wide open in the corner, and then just play defense and get out and run.”
As is usually the case, Lee’s defense and speed obviously have been more easily controlled than his shot. A career 39 percent shooter from beyond the arc, he went almost 11 full quarters without making a 3-pointer. Lee kept spacing the floor, and Rondo kept finding him — further evidence of their blossoming chemistry — but his shot just wasn’t falling. Finally, in the third quarter against the Nets, Rondo again found an open Lee, who kissed both his fists, hit his heart and pointed to the sky after finally connecting from long distance.
“A couple of games I wasn’t shooting the ball well, so when I got one it was kind of a relief,” admitted Lee. “One of the things Doc and this team focuses on is trusting each other. Rondo kept coming to me, and he hit me on that open pass. When I hit the shot, to me it symbolizes all that [trust].”
Meanwhile, Terry’s role sounds even simpler: Score off the bench. But it’s more complicated than that. In Bradley’s absence, Terry has to learn both guard positions on a second unit full of players just as inexperienced in the Celtics system — unlike Lee, who can rely more on Rondo, Pierce and Garnett.
“I’m right there,” Terry said. “I’m playing two different positions, so I’m having to learn the plays and figure it out from a point guard perspective and then from an off-the-ball shooting guard perspective. So, I’m a work in progress, but a veteran like myself — it don’t matter. When those lights come on and the popcorn’s popping, I’m going to be ready.”
During preseason, he hasn’t scored more than 12 points, hasn’t reached double digits against NBA competition and quite frankly hasn’t submitted a quintessential Terry performance. But at this point he’s far more concerned with how the bench performs as a group than his individual performance or the fact he’s shot 1-for-4 in each of his last two games. His shots will eventually fall, too, and he’s got 13 season of NBA experience as evidence.
“We’re still behind on the communication part,” Terry said. “We’re not communicating as well. I’m talking about my group — the second unit — and that’s going to take some time. It’s some new terminology and some things that we’re not used to, coming from new teams, and we’re going to have to make that adjustment.
“It’s a long season,” he added. “Hopefully, we’ll get to it. If we’re still having that problem in January, then it will be a problem, but right now we’re just trying to find our way.”
In that sense, Terry and his veteran Celtics teammates already are on the same page.
“Chemistry with everyone is getting a little better,” Rondo said. “This is only the fifth game for a lot of us together. With the exception of me, Kevin and Paul, everyone is new. Doc’s going to play us, and we’re going to continue to develop the chemistry. We also have a good week of straight practice, and we’ll get it. It’s not hard at all. We’re professionals. It’s just something we have to pick up. Nobody’s a rookie, except for Jared [Sullinger], and he’ll catch up.”
“When it comes to personnel on our team, I don’t think you’ve seen everything that everybody obviously can contribute to our team,” added Garnett, who might as well have his doctorate in chemistry. “We’re still in the stages of getting better, still in the stages of everybody understanding their role.”
That includes Terry and Lee, each still searching for his Celtics identity in a role left vacant by Ray Allen.
(Have a question, concern or conception for the next Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)