Celtics

Celtics

Like so many players before him, David Lee came into the NBA figuring the best way to score points with coaches was to show he could do more than just score points.

So he went about becoming an absolute terror on the glass, all the while getting his share of points to go with it which led to a pair of All-Star selections.

Now a Boston Celtic, Lee still reminds us all that it wasn’t that long ago when he was a double-double, All-Star machine.

But Lee believes continuing to improve as a defender individually and collectively, maybe more than anything else, is what will help make the Celtics an extremely tough team to beat this season.

No other Celtic knows first-hand how becoming a better team defensively can change the fortunes of a franchise.

Prior to being traded to Boston during the offseason, Lee spent the previous five seasons as a member of the Golden State Warriors, the reigning NBA champions. During his time there, he was part of the Warriors’ rise up to being a defensive powerhouse. Golden State had the league’s top-ranked defense last season after having been the NBA’s third-best defense in 2014.

He sees the potential for a similar improvement with the Boston Celtics who ranked 13th last season in defensive rating. Lee said players can sense the defensive change on a nightly basis.

“What helped us the most was we’d have nights where the 3-ball wasn’t going, we’d still be in games,” Lee told CSNNE.com. “Instead of being down 15, you’re down six or seven points and within striking distance.”

The Celtics haven’t had to lock down defensively in the closing moments of games in the preseason yet, having won all three by an average of 17.1 points. Instead, they are jumping on teams defensively from the outset, and showing few signs of letting up as the game progresses.

The key to improving defensively, Lee said, is making it a priority for everyone on the roster.  

“It was something we talked about every single day (in Golden State), similar to what we do here,” Lee said. “From there it’s about effort.”

Although he hasn’t been around his new teammates for very long, Lee has seen enough to know that effort is not going to be a problem with this club.

“Our greatest strength is our depth,” Lee said. “That allows guys to play hard at both ends, knowing there’s a quality person to come in. That’s a huge advantage for us.”

Teammate and fellow newcomer Amir Johnson echoed similar sentiments.

“No matter who’s in the game, there’s no let-up,” Johnson, who played in Toronto last season, told CSNNE.com. “There aren’t too many teams that can claim that, especially when you’re talking defense.”

To hear Johnson speak of defense isn’t all that surprising. He came into the NBA straight out of high school, with his first pro coach in Detroit being Hall of Famer Larry Brown – a stickler for defense.

After signing with Toronto, Johnson established himself as a strong rim-protector by utilizing his length and good defensive instincts.

Lee?

One of the biggest knocks on his game since he has been in the league has to do with his defense, something he has admittedly worked on for years to improve.

And while he’s no DeAndre Jordan or Amir Johnson, Lee’s defense isn’t nearly as bad as some might believe.

In fact, his defensive rating has improved every year since 2011. In the preseason, his defensive rating is 98.1 which would be a career-best mark for him if he maintained it during the regular season.

And while he has always placed a high value on playing well at that end of the floor, it wasn’t until the past few years did he find himself in a system that placed a heavy emphasis on excelling at that end of the floor – similar to what he sees happening here in Boston.

“Like I said earlier, one of the strengths with our team is our depth,” Lee said. “Depth and guys understanding, buying into the principles of what we need to do out there. That way, it doesn’t matter who you’re on the floor with. You know what’s supposed to happen.”