By: Jesse Taylor, @GSW_JesseTaylor
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 sixth installment of “The David Lee Watch” follows the matchup vs. New Orleans on December 18.
Is this the new norm? I keep waiting for something bad to happen, but the Warriors are now 17-8. Again, they played a bad team with a 5-19 record in the New Orleans Hornets. And again, the Warriors had trouble putting a bad team away.
But let’s be real here; this is the Golden State Warriors. Complaining about wins is something we should not yet be doing. Not even close. They have 17 wins and it’s not even Christmas yet. I’ll take that running full speed without looking back.
Why? I once sat through five seasons as this team left me staring into oblivion like Randle P McMurphy after a visit to the lobotomy clinic. In successive seasons, they won 19, 21, 19, 17 and 21 games … FOR ENTIRE SEASONS (one of which was a lock-out-shortened year, but who gives a shit; I was too busy letting a giant Juicy Fruit-chewing Native American suffocate me with a pillow to notice).
So you can imagine why, today, I feel like a vagrant dog who is about to get a nice meaty bone right before being tricked, noosed up and dragged to a dog pound hell-hole (unlike Tha Dogg Pound hell-hole that has been every DPG album since 2005’s Dogg Food).
Despite all these pent-up Warriors issues that, for my own best interests, should require a visit to a psychiatrist (is Al Attles licensed?), I can’t help but feel that what we are seeing from David Lee is the real deal. We are 25 games into the season, and despite a few off games, he has been the team’s most consistent player. He continued this trend on Tuesday against the Hornets. Let’s get to the breakdown …
Jump ball – Ezeli to Lee to Curry is becoming as automatic as Tinkers to Evers to Chance. Festus starts us off with a great pass to Lee (let’s see Adonal Foyle pull that pass off) and Lee gets an easy one for a 2-0 lead.
Lee opens the game guarding the long and lean first overall pick, rookie Anthony Davis. Lee’s off-the-ball work is solid as he is working hard as always, getting rebounding position on both ends of the floor.
On offense, he gets another easy basket, this one courtesy of a Steph Curry lob. The next time Lee touches the ball, he gets a little too generous and passes up what looked like would have been an easy reverse layup. Instead, he dishes off to Harrison Barnes, who misses the open three. In the past, Lee has been known to force shots, so to see him pass up looks to get his teammates involved is a welcome sight.
You know who’s confident right now? This cat named David Lee. Rather than go up for a normal shot, he actually got a little fancy and tried to reverse dunk it over Robin Lopez. He missed it, but I don’t care. I love the fact that he actually tried this. He did get fouled by Lopez and hit the two free throws, so he didn’t give anything away there anyway. Lee has six of the Warriors first 10 points.
Ryan Anderson checks into the game for Lopez and Lee switches to Anderson while Ezeli moves to Davis. Lee immediately posts up Anderson, but misses his go-to banker. The Warriors are now shooting just 3-12 and trail 10-11 with 6:15 left in the first.
Who do they go to for an important bucket? Lee gets the ball on the block, turns and faces Davis, gives him a shot fake, drives into the center lane and finishes with a difficult right-handed scoop shot while evading Davis’ long arms.
On the next play, Lee plays help defense on the ball, but in doing so, Davis gets open and receives a pass. Lee quickly recovers and fouls Davis. Without watching that whole play, it may have looked like bad defense on Lee. But Lee did exactly what he was supposed to and his foul to end the play was a good one.
On what is becoming the Warriors most successful offensive play, Lee receives the ball in the middle of the lane with a choice of either passing out or driving in for a shot. On this play, he attracts defenders inside, then kicks out a nice pass to Jarrett Jack who swings it to Klay Thompson for a made three. This gives the Warriors an 18-16 lead with 4:40 left in the first.
After the next offensive play, in my notes, I simple wrote, “Wow.” This was after Lee drove the lane and made a beautiful drop pass to an open Draymond Green for an easy layup. His passing is a key factor in the success of the Warriors.
In the first of several instances throughout the game, Lee does a great job getting a body on Davis, but his solid rebounding position in rendered useless by Davis’ giraffe-neck like arms.
The Warriors complete a 9-0 run when Green returns the favor to Lee by feeding Lee for an open layup and a 24-16 lead. The next time down, Lee positions himself nicely for an offensive rebound, but misses the tip-in layup. On defense, he blocks out Davis, but is again unable to secure the rebound as Elastic Man reaches up and snatches the ball away.
Lee checks out with 1:01 left in the first quarter and the Warriors leading 27-21. He checks back in at the 9:26 mark of the second and the score 38-25.
Less than a minute into his return, Lee faces up on Davis, makes a good move to get around him, spins to avoid the blocked shot and hits with his right hand. On the next offensive possession, Lee takes the ball off a pick-and-roll with Curry, drives the lane and we get an instant replay of the Lee to Jack to Klay three-point shot. 43-33 with 7:40 left.
Lee’s great first half continues. He again pump fakes Davis from the outside, drives the baseline this time, and scores over the lanky rookie with his right hand while picking up the foul. His free throw makes it 48-39 and gives him 15 points.
On defense, the always-scrappy Lee bothers Lopez on a rebound, forcing the ball out to Klay. His confidence still soaring, Lee drives the middle of the lane and tries an around-the-back dribble move, but fails to score on what would have been a highlight reel play.
To complete an amazing 6-minute run, Lee hustles passed the Hornets defenders while Jack leads a fast-break. Jack spots the sprinting Lee for an easy layup and a 52-41 lead at the 3:28 mark.
If anyone wants to argue that Lee is not playing like an All-Star, they need to watch this 6-minute stretch. Lee was pretty much doing it all. He made great shots against a taller defensive-minded player, he hustled, he played solid on-the-ball defense, he hustled, he played solid off-the-ball defense, he hustled, he made some amazing passes, he hustled and he got into great rebounding position on both ends of the floor. And he hustled. The only thing missing was his trademark 18-foot jumper. But it was obvious that Lee was making a conscious effort to get into the lane and stay away from the outside shot. And it was working for him.
In the final minute of the half, Lee is busting his ass under the basket trying to keep taller players off the glass. Watching him do this all game is pretty remarkable. He works extremely hard down low to get in good position.
The Warriors begin the third quarter with a 59-50 lead, and Lee immediately picks up his third foul on a ticky-tack call. But he comes back to play good help defense which results in Lee snatching a pass inside the lane for a steal. This leads to two frees throws from Klay.
To help protect him from fouls, Lee moves to Anderson. Lee gets screened on defense and Klay moves to Anderson. Thinking Klay is going to stay with Anderson, Lee moves to Klay’s man, but then Klay goes back to his man, leaving Anderson open and he quickly drives to the basket. Even though he missed the layup, Anderson’s drive forced Ezeli to help out, which left Davis open for a follow-up dunk. After the play, Lee glares at Klay for not staying with Anderson. These types of moments are what make basketball so interesting to me. And it’s also another example of it looking like Lee played bad defense even though he really didn’t.
Lee’s great passing continues as he cuts across the key, receives a pass, and in one motion, drops it behind him to a moving Ezeli for an easy dunk. Lee later hits his first jumper of the game, giving him 21 points and the Warriors a 68-57 lead. Green then makes another nice pass to Lee for an easy dunk.
With 4:03 left in the third, Lee checks out as the Warriors hold a 70-61 lead. It’s 84-76 when he checks back in at the 9:22 mark of the fourth.
He quickly makes an impact with a nice back-door look to Curry, who makes the open layup for a 10-point lead. On the next possession, Lee overpowers Austin Rivers to grab an offensive rebound, but steps out of bounds before he can secure it. He then bites on an Anderson pump-fake and picks up his fourth foul. After the Anderson free throws, it’s 88-78 with 7:32 to go.
The Hornets cut the lead to five before Curry and Lee execute a pick-and-roll that results in Lee getting fouled on the shot. He hits the big free throws for a 7-point lead.
The Hornets score and the Warriors come down and post up Lee. He is doubled, kicks it out nicely to Klay for an open three, but Klay misses. Up four with under two minutes left, Lee posts again and kicks it out to an open Klay, who again misses the open three. But the Warriors grab the rebound and hit their free throws down the stretch to secure a 103-96 win.
Lee finished with 26 points (10-16 FG), nine rebounds and four assists. He had just seven points in the second half, but this was because he was making smart plays. Even though he was hot, he never forced his shots and he made the right; many of which weren’t converted by his teammates.
Lee is playing extremely well right now. If the All-Star game took place this weekend, he would deserve to be in it. Some downplay the importance of All-Star selections, but for the Warriors and their fans, it would be a great accomplishment to get someone in the game. Since Latrell Sprewell in 1997, we have all sat home year after year as other players from other teams play in the game. It’s a matter of pride watching someone from your team out there.
Let’s hope the Warriors keep winning and Lee (or Curry) keep playing well so we can finally end the drought and feel some gratification for the Bay Area during the NBA’s exciting weekend.