By: Jesse Taylor
Reader’s Note: Beginning December 8, WarriorsWorld is spending nearly two weeks examining the play of David Lee, easily the most polarizing player on the Warriors. We are providing an unbiased look by watching David Lee, and only David Lee, on both ends of the floor for a stretch of games ending with the Lakers at Oracle Arena on December 22. Our third installment of “The David Lee Watch” follows the matchup at Miami on December 12.
A bit of a magical night – my daughter was paid her first visit by the tooth fairy and David Lee helped lead the Warriors to their fifth straight road win with a shocking, last-second 97-95 defeat of the defending champion Heat.
Even more shocking has been the play of Lee. After a bad start to the season that included big stinkers against the Suns and Lakers, Lee has been on a tear as of late. Given his recent matchups against some of the worst power forwards in the game, I wanted to wait until this Heat game to really pass credible judgment.
Let’s face it. As Warriors fans, we’ve all thrown a few “f-yous” David Lee’s way. Some of them deserved, like that opening night game in Phoenix when he was clearly off his game but kept tossing up bricks – finishing 2-16 from the field. But something has been clicking for him recently. His confidence is at an all-time high.
I believe it started with the 106-105 home win against Denver, when, after getting his ass handed to him twice in two weeks by Kenneth Faried, Lee came back in week three against the Nuggets with something to prove against Faried. In that game he knocked down 13 of 15 shots, but also dished out 6 dimes with 9 boards. It was the best I’d ever seen him play while faced with an adverse situation. Adverse you say? You try playing against a dude like this.
Next up, he wasn’t great against Indiana in the Warriors’ most lopsided win of the season, but he wasn’t needed that game either. But since then, he’s been a monster.
And that continued against the NBA’s most dominant team while Lee was matched against both the taller, more skilled Chris Bosh and tougher Udonis Haslem.
Lee starts the game nicely, hitting an open jumper on his first touch. He probably could have driven inside, but he was more likely to get met at the rim by Bosh, so the jumper was a good choice. He then grabs a strong offensive rebound off a Harrison Barnes miss and kicks it to Steph Curry for a three.
Lee continues to play well as he blocks out Bosh to grab a defensive rebound, quickly gets the ball to Klay Thompson before Barnes hits a jumper to make it 7-2, with Lee impacting all seven points. He plays great help defense on Dwyane Wade and strips the ball, but Klay mishandles the potential steal. But Lee later scores on a nice turnaround right-handed jump hook for a 9-6 lead. The Miami crowd is so sparse that I think I could hear all the Florida Gator fans in the crowd cheer for Lee on that last basket.
Of course, Lee is not the greatest defender and his hot streak ends when LeBron James drives through the lane and Lee makes a half-hearted attempt to stop him. LeBron breezes in for the layup. But Lee comes right back, taking a nice pass from Klay, pump faking to get around Bosh and driving in for a right-handed dunk before Haslem can get to him. I knew this was a great play when I saw Kent Bazemore’s head explode during his bench celebration.
A great first quarter continues when Lee gets great position on Mario Chalmers to beat him to the ball, gain the offensive rebound and score. He later grabs another offensive rebound, which results in a Klay 3-pointer and a 22-18 lead with 4:18 left.
Both Lee and Curry play the entire first quarter and the Warriors lead 29-28. With each of them resting at the start of the second, the Heat make a mini-run to take a 33-29 lead. When Lee and Curry check back in at the 8:21 mark, the Warriors trail 29-34. After Lee misses a jumper, he and Curry execute a nice pick-and-roll with Lee finishing nicely over Bosh, wisely protecting the ball as he scored with his left hand.
I’m supposed to be watching Lee the whole game, but I can’t help noticing the type of floor game Curry is playing. The Heat are playing him pretty tough, but Curry’s taking what the defense presents by driving and kicking to open teammates. In terms of just his floor game, this is the best I’ve seen Curry look.
Lee is also moving the ball well, quickly passing ahead to Klay for a fast-break layup. And just like that, the Warriors tie it at 41 with 6:21 left in the first half. It’s a 7-2 run since the return of Lee and Curry.
I don’t believe he meant malice, but Lee’s two-handed shove of an air-born LeBron was a very dumb play. If an opposing player did that to a Warrior, Bob Fitzgerald would have lost his mind. To Fitz’s credit, he did admit it was a correctly called flagrant on Lee.
After that play, Lee becomes a bit tentative; not going after rebounds as hard. Luckily, this doesn’t last long.
Quick question for the Heat – have you seen this Klay Thompson guy shoot before? You’re leaving him wide open like he was Draymond Green or something. And Klay is making them pay. Wade finally starts working a little harder on Klay, but ends up taking a Three Stooges poke to his eye and, while bent over holding said eye, is leveled to the ground by Chalmers. Klay finds himself open again for another three. 51-47 Warriors with 3:11 to go in the half.
Lee makes it 53-49 with a great hustle play – running hard down the court to tip up a missed Curry layup. Lee misses the first tip, but bounces up quickly and tips it in on the second try.
Curry and Lee stay hot in the third, as Curry makes a beautiful pass to find an open Lee under the basket for a dunk. After forcing Bosh into a missed jumper with some nice defense, Lee goes hard to the basket against Bosh and flips in a nice shot, giving him 16 points to go with his 11 rebounds.
Another defensive lapse by Lee (he’s got to have a few per game, right?), as Bosh picks Barnes and LeBron curls around for a wide open layup as Lee stood watching like the paparazzi during a mugging. Lee looks frustrated after the play. If he’s mad at Barnes for not fighting through the pick, that’s pretty messed up. Lee has to help out on that play. I’m hoping he’s mad at himself.
Something I’ve noticed: the Warriors are hanging with the Heat, but are really not playing all that spectacular. For them to play their normal type of game and go shot-for-shot with the NBA champs is pretty impressive. This speaks to Curry’s floor game, Klay’s ability to make shots and the constant threat of David Lee. Oh, and Jack is playing his usual solid type of game.
Why is Lee a constant threat? Check this play: Lee is the last one running up the court on offense. Curry tosses him the ball at mid-court. Lee grabs it in stride, dribbles all the way into the key and reaches Bosh. He then performs, at a pretty high speed mind you, a slick spin move to get around Bosh and score on a layup. Not many guys his size can pull that off.
Lee exits with just under three minutes left in the third and the score 69-66. Things remain relatively unchanged when he returns with the score 83-81 at the 9:24 mark of the fourth. He reaches 20 points by hitting two free throws to make the score 87-82. This makes the fifth straight game he has at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Lee’s jumper begins to fade as he misses a few opens ones in a row. LeBron begins to take over and the Heat take an 89-87 lead. To help keep it close, Lee makes a nice defensive play, stripping a driving Wade, who would have had an open layup, and the ball goes out on the Heat.
Taking advantage of a smaller Norris Cole, Lee posts up and gets fouled. Down 93-95 with 1:52 left in the game, Lee nails two clutch free throws to tie it. Next time down, Lee ends up on LeBron at the top of the key after a switch. And just when you think it’s about to get ugly, LeBron picks up his dribble and Lee pressures him into a long turn-around 3-point jumper that isn’t close. Lee returns the favor, though, with a soft running flip shot that isn’t close. Heat ball. Still tied at 95 with 32 seconds left.
Shane Battier misses a good look at a 3-pointer and, if you’re reading this, you know the rest of the story. Jack and Green are heroes and the Warriors have their biggest win in quite some time, improving to 15-7. Holy shit. That is crazy just typing those numbers.
This was a GPS game for David Lee after previously going against Chris Singleton and Bismack Biyombo/Byron Mullens. I would say he performed like Whip Whitaker in “Flight” – some head scratching moments and a bit sloppy, but overall, he did a pretty amazing job. Can’t say he saved any lives, but at least he was drunk either. Bosh on the other hand may have been.
Lee helped get the Warriors off to a strong start, which was critical in for the team’s confidence. He made some very impressive scoring plays and grabbed key rebounds. While he had a couple of soft offensive plays near the end, he took advantage of the smaller Cole to draw a foul and then hit two key free throws to put the team in position to win.
This is the best I’ve ever seen Lee play, and if he keeps it up, I promise to stop dropping f-bombs on him. Next up: Orlando.
Follow Jesse Taylor on Twitter, @GSW_JesseTaylor