Celtics

Soft-spoken Lee looking to make big impact with Celtics

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Soft-spoken Lee looking to make big impact with Celtics

ISTANBUL There is a quiet, unassuming manner in which Courtney Lee goes about his business.

He knows he's good, but doesn't need to run down stats or run his mouth to prove it.

Instead, he just goes about his business focused on doing whatever job he's asked to do.

Lee's low-key approach is similar to another former Celtic player who, like Lee, bounced around a few times before finally finding an NBA home.

That former Celtic was Chauncey Billups, with Boston being the first of many teams to ship him out before he would eventually blossom into one of the NBA's better point guards just a few years ago with the Detroit Pistons.

Fast forward to Lee, who is hoping he'll have a similar emergence with the Boston Celtics.

Not surprisingly, Lee considers Billups a good friend who has at times doled out advice to him -- even during games.

"You know him, he's Mr. Big Shot," Lee told CSNNE.com following the C's three hour practice on Wednesday. "He's won a championship. With me coming into the league, just playing hard, doing my role . . . we've built up a mutual respect."

Lee's relationship with the Billups family goes even deeper.

When Lee played at Western Kentucky, he recalls playing against Billups' younger brother Rodney who attended the University of Denver.

And while no one will confuse their games, the way they go about handling themselves and the pressure of being in the NBA is similar.

Paul Pierce knows both players and agrees that they do share a similar demeanor.

"Courtney is pretty laid back, kind of chill," Pierce said.

But on the floor, Pierce has seen a different side of Lee that he likes . . . a lot.

Pierce views Lee as one of his more competitive teammates, based on the way he has performed in practice as well as how he has fared with other teams. And it is that side of Lee that, in Pierce's mind, makes him a good fit even though he doesn't have an outwardly strong personality.

"We want guys that produce; strong willed," Pierce said. "Those are the type of players we feel we need to win a championship."

Pierce recalls a game last season in which he was playing against Lee's former team, the Houston Rockets, and Lee asked to guard him for a while.

"He really accepts the challenge," Pierce said. "Those are the type of guys you want, veteran guys who want to step up and take the challenge."

Competing for a title was among the many factors Lee considered when choosing to play for Boston instead of another team that he says offered him more money. And it appears Lee will have that opportunity in Boston after the C's signed him to a four-year deal worth 21.35 million.

Having a long-term deal certainly puts Lee's mind at ease some, but he says having played for three teams in just four NBA seasons isn't all bad.

"There's nothing wrong with bouncing around," Lee said. "You gotta get that right feel. I feel I was in a couple right fits."

Originally drafted by Orlando with the No. 22 pick in 2008, Lee was traded the following summer along with Rafer Alston, to New Jersey for Vince Cater.

"That first year in New Jersey, they wouldn't do the trade unless I was in it," Lee said. "So I look at it in a sense, it shows I have value around this league."

Especially to the Celtics who see Lee as a player with tremendous versatility at both ends of thee court.

"Just a solid player," C's coach Doc Rivers said. "He's a really good basketball player. When people hear solid play, they think average. But he's better than average. He does a lot of things well."

He'll have to in order to make the kind of impact both he and the Celtics are looking for this season.

Celtics thought it would be good . . . but this good?

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Celtics thought it would be good . . . but this good?

After arriving in Boston and spending some time with his new teammates, Kyrie Irving felt good about this group doing big things this season. 

But when asked about the experience thus far being what he thought it would be, Irving responded, “It’s probably exceeded that.”

He’s not alone. 

Few would have envisioned the Celtics (15-2) would have the best record in the NBA at this point, let alone be riding a 15-game winning streak which ranks as the fifth-best winning streak in franchise history. 

Irving and his Celtics teammates will try and keep it going tonight when they take on the Dallas Mavericks.

Irving’s ability to mesh with his teammates and still find success was among the many questions out there when the Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off the blockbuster trade this offseason. 

Blending in has not been an issue for Irving, bolstered by the reality that his game stands out. 

We saw that in Boston’s 110-99 win over the Atlanta Hawks, which was a game in which Irving had 30 points on an insanely efficient 10-for-12 shooting night. 

There were many factors that went into Irving’s strong night against the Hawks, but he said it really came down to one thing above all else.

“I just made some damn shots for once,” Irving quipped. “That right there kind of made it seem better than I actually been shooting over the start of the season.  It would also contribute to being able to be in the right spots and guys being selfless in their approach driving to the basket or getting into the paint. It’s tell-tale sign of all of us getting more comfortable.”

Here are five below-the-radar story lines to keep an eye on as the Boston Celtics face the Dallas Mavericks, with Boston gunning for its 16th straight win. 

BROWN’S POSITIVE PLAY

Jaylen Brown has been on a bit of an offensive tear of late, the last being a career-high 27-point performance in Boston’s win over Atlanta. But even more telling is how well things seem to flow with him on the floor. Brown’s plus/minus this season is +146 which is tops among all players in the Eastern Conference. His closest competition in the East? That would teammate Al Horford whose plus/minus this season is +143. In addition, Horford has had a positive plus/minus in every game this season. 

YOGI FERRELL

You can count Yogi Ferrell among the ones that got away from Brad Stevens when he was coaching at Butler. Ferrell, who played at Indiana, was a player on Stevens’ radar when he was coaching at Butler. “I recruited Yogi, unsuccessfully,” Stevens told reporters in Dallas. While Ferrell came on strong as an undrafted free agent with the Mavericks last season, Stevens said there’s nothing about Ferrell’s game now that he didn’t see when he tried to woo him to Butler. “He would have been awfully good at Butler,” Stevens said.

HOMECOMING

While Marcus Smart grew up in Flower Mound, Texas (less than an hour from Dallas), tonight’s game is a homecoming of sorts for another Celtics player – Semi Ojeleye. The 6-foot-7 forward played at SMU which is located in Dallas. A second-round pick by Boston in last June’s NBA draft, Ojeleye has been among the many surprise performers for the Celtics this season. “We knew he could be a versatile defender,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Probably has exceeded our expectations in that regard with his ability to guard one (point guard) through five (center) at certain times. And he’s been pretty consistent shooting the ball. Right now, embracing that kind of 3-and-D role is what he has to do and he’s done it well.”

DEEP DRAFT CLASS

The Boston Celtics struck gold by drafting Jayson Tatum with the third overall pick. But as you look at the teams that had lottery picks in last June’s NBA draft, few come away feeling disappointed or discouraged by the player selected. The Dallas Mavericks are among the teams pleased with their first-round pick, Dennis Smith Jr. who was selected with the ninth overall pick. He has emerged as one of the top rookies this year, averaging 14.5 points, 4.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game. And yes, he was a player that was on the Celtics’ radar leading up to last June’s draft. “We had Dennis in and he was really impressive,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He’s a guy that’s going to have a great career and he’s got good veteran players around him to help kick it off.”

DIRK NOWITZKI

The numbers aren’t anywhere close to what we’ve seen for the bulk of Dirk Nowitzki’s illustrious career that’s now in Year 20. But there is a demeanor about him that seems to be at peace with where he’s at basketball-wise, even if the wins aren’t nearly as plentiful as he’s accustomed to. “I appreciate his game a ton,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Just watching him talk on the court, cheer on the bench, sit at the scorer’s table with a smile on his face. You can’t play this long and be this good this long if you don’t’ love it. Everybody says they love it, but he’s got a different level of passion. You can feel it, you can see it. You root for guys like him to have success.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

WATCH: Celtics vs. Mavericks

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Mavericks

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Mavericks in Dallas. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: C's need to play Smart in Dallas

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NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE