BOSTON – David Lee got his revenge. Cast away as a failed experiment a year ago, the David Lee revenge game was a phenomenal spectacle of everything the Celtics had hoped he could offer. He helped the Spurs beat the Celtics 109-103 Friday.
Lee played with an intensity, aggression and fluidity that gave the Spurs the edge in the second half. He was a monster on the boards, but it was his physical finishing that was key.
Kawhi Leonard was the constant for San Antonio, swooping in for some iso buckets from time to time and sparking a few single-handed runs to keep the Spurs afloat. Whenever the Celtics would come knocking in the second half, he or LeMarcus Aldridge would go to work. But it was the second unit for the Spurs, particularly Patty Mills and David Lee, that broke it open.
“You can't make the mistakes that we made, whether that be giving up second-chance points or turning the ball over,” Isaiah Thomas said. “Their bench came in and changed the game. With a team like that, you can't have that many mistakes.”
It turned into an ol’ West shootout late in the fourth, when Isaiah Thomas tried to carry the Celtics back into it. He had a brilliant drive around a defender waiting to take a charge in the middle of the lane, and then he nailed a corner three on the next play.
Right when the momentum looked like it could shift back to the Celtics, Patty Mills drilled a corner three to keep the Spurs up six with 44.1 seconds left.
Thomas took the blame for the play, where he ended up lost in the paint trying to find his assignment.
“Miscommunication,” Thomas said. “I had thought Smart said switch, but those are little mistakes that we made that those type of guys in that organization are going to capitalize on.”
“We had a great defensive possession, we didn’t get a rebound. That happens,” Stevens said.
The Celtics quickly got Al Horford a corner three look on the OTA after a Stevens timeout, which Al upfaked into an open baseline dunk. It looked like the Celtics would have one last shot if they could get a stop.
They forced a tough look for three, but LeMarcus Aldridge read the trajectory of the shot and scooped up the easy offensive rebound. It was the fifth offensive board for the Spurs in the fourth quarter and would be the final nail in the coffin.
The Aldridge rebound epitomized the biggest flaw in the Celtics’ “Coma” lineup [or Wolverine lineup as Kyle Draper called it today]. On this play, Horford found himself on the strong side, where Patty Mills was cutting to the corner. Since Mills had just hit a crucial three and Horford was already guarding him as he forced Mills to kick out to the shooter, Horford prioritized recovering to Mills in the corner.
But this left Avery Bradley alone under the rim to box out Aldridge, an impossible task since he gives up nearly a foot to the all-star. Bradley didn’t put much muscle into the box out, which made it an easy grab for Aldridge.
The Celtics’ effort was not without merit. They kept it close through the fourth quarter thanks to some inconsistent but effective scoring from Kelly Olynyk and a few and-ones for Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier. Bradley held down the fort, while the rest of the second unit trickled in contributions.
Both Aldridge and Al Horford had a quiet game until the fourth quarter, when Horford and Marcus Smart hooked up for this perfect pick-and-roll.
But the Spurs’ execution came through in the end, as it usually does. As great as Isaiah Thomas was in the final minutes and Avery Bradley had been throughout the first three quarters, the Celtics couldn’t manufacture the transition opportunities they rely on late in the fourth.
D-LEE’S REVENGE GAME
Lee played with a ferocity and physical prowess the Celtics had anticipated when he opened last season as the starting four. Lee admitted profusely after the game that he failed to show up in shape last year and took full responsibility.
“I think, everybody makes mistakes in their career. I think I came in not in the best shape and it wasn’t by design,” Lee said. “It wasn’t just laziness. I just didn’t do what I need to do and I’ve been up front about acknowledging that.”
But the man who was once an all-star with the Knicks and a franchise player with the Warriors clearly had more than just a pep in his step in his return to Boston.
“I don’t know why. He only played a few games for us,” Isaiah Thomas joked...probably.
"He definitely played a hell of a game," Thomas said. "I mean he had some key plays and he's a veteran who knows how to play. He's good in their system and he was talking a little bit too, but that's D-Lee. He's a hell of a basketball player."
Lee didn’t hold any ill will towards the Celtics, opting to take the high road.
“It’s easy to just look at the coaching staff and say, ‘Brad should’ve played me more.’ This and that. But I’ve been very open about saying I should have been in better shape and it takes that for me to be successful on the court. The staff did an unbelievable job of helping me get in shape here. And by that point, I think it wasn’t coach’s wish to play me that much and we went our separate ways. I have nothing but respect for the ownership from Danny Ainge on down. I think they have a great team here and obviously I still keep in touch with some guys.”
Celtics fans were let down that Lee never panned out, especially with the promise he showed in preseason as a distributor from the high-post. But he was shoved around in the regular season and Stevens quickly pulled the plug on the experiment. Lee understands the Celtics Nation frustration.
“No doubt. No doubt. I mean, I completely understand that. Like I said, I’d love to be perfect and play great all the time. It wasn’t the case last year to start the year and it wasn’t out of a lack of effort or disrespecting Boston or anything like that. It just worked out the way that it did. If I could go back and do it again, I would have probably tried to come in in better shape and that’s that.”
David tried to be as positive of a leader as he could through the whole ordeal, maintaining his role as a mentor without being too vocal about his DNPs.
“You learn from things you don’t do well in your career. With that being said, I came in her and I was a good leadership guy for them. I was still positive with all the young guys. It’s not like I came here and protested and asked to be traded or asked to be bought out. It’s a situation that occurred and I thought my attitude was great. Just didn’t play well the first few games of the season and then they shifted who they wanted to play. That’s the way things work out and I take responsibility for my side of it. I wish things could have gone different but it’s always about what are you going to today and moving forward, so that’s what I gotta keep doing.”
Lee can’t go back in time, but he seems to be doing well moving forward. He proved to be the second unit sparkplug Friday and exposed the Celtics’ power and size vulnerability under the rim. Lee will continue to work as a specialist for Pop, called to fill that role when the gameplan calls for it. It’s at least something for the former all-star, which is fine by him.