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Lee earned the right to take Warriors' game-winning shot

NBC Sports

On a night when Warriors reserves sprinted off the bench embodying the tenacious spirit of an absent Draymond Green, the leader among them got what he deserved.

A chance to take the game-winning shot.

The charm and moxie to make it.

And the warm satisfaction that comes with being mobbed by jubilant teammates.

Damion Lee had done plenty good even before closing out the Chicago Bulls on Sunday with a 3-pointer from the top of arc with 2.3 seconds remaining to give the Warriors a 129-128 victory, their first of the season. 

Lee had drained 60 percent of his 3-balls in the first two games, when most of his teammates were hovering around 20 percent. The veteran guard-forward came off the bench to open the second quarter at United Center playing angry defense while also nailing two triples.

On a team struggling with the most important shot in basketball, Lee walked into the locker room at halftime shooting 71.4 percent from distance over the first 10 quarters.

That second quarter jolt, during which the second unit rubbed out a deficit and built a 60-56 halftime lead, came largely on the conviction of Lee. It was the best quarter the Warriors had played this season, scoring 36 points, making seven 3-pointers and forcing 10 turnovers while committing only one. 

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Lee was the catalyst, his energy inspiring teammates in much the same way Draymond's intensity often does. From Kevon Looney and Eric Paschall to Jordan Poole and Brad Wanamaker and Mychal Mulder, everybody seemed quicker, as did the pace of the game.

“They were great,” coach Steve Kerr said of the reserves. “Eric played some minutes in center tonight and was really active. Both Jordan and Mulder came in knocked down shots for us. Loon was tremendous. That's the Looney who we've all come to know and love over the years, just really doing a great job defensively on guards. Switching out, using his length to contest shooters. Loon was a plus-12 and in 17 minutes tonight. It just seemed like he tightened our defense up when he was on the floor.

“And then of course Damion was the hero, not only with that shot but with his fantastic play throughout the night.”

Lee -- who scored 12 points, adding two rebounds, two assists and two steals -- was just as effective in the fourth quarter as in the second. He played 21 minutes, all in those two quarters, and was plus-6 in each. It’s no coincidence that the Warriors outscored the Bulls 72-60 in the second and fourth.

Golden State was ready when it mattered most.

Kerr drew up a play hoping to create a good look for either Stephen Curry, who scored a game-high 36 points, or Andrew Wiggins, who in his best game this season tossed in 19. The Bulls loaded up on those two; they were not going to allow Curry, who scored 13 points in seven fourth-quarter minutes, to take the shot.

So, Lee inbounded to Looney and the two of them improvised. Looney read the defensive reaction and flipped the ball back to Lee, who slipped behind Loon, took one dribble and fired. 

Game.

“Steph got going and what a moment for D-Lee,” Kerr said. “That's one he'll remember forever. We needed that. It was just a great win and everybody's feeling a lot better in that locker room.”

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Leave it Curry to sum up the performance of the Warriors and his brother-in-law.

“It wasn’t pretty at all,” Curry told NBC Sports Bay Area. “But we showed some competitive fire down the stretch. It’s crazy. D-Lee, man, staying ready. He hit a big shot early in the fourth, played great defense and comes down and wins the game for us.”

Nobody in a Warriors jersey worked harder to get the big moment, and no one deserved it more.