By: Jesse Taylor
Reader’s Note: Beginning December 8, WarriorsWorld is spending 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 seventh installment of “The David Lee Watch” follows the matchup at Sacramento on December 19.
A day after I wrote that, as a Warriors fan, I felt like a vagrant dog who was about to have a nice meaty bone snatched away by a dog catcher, the Warriors had to go and play the dog catcher role on me against the Kings last night.
It was a sickening game that we can only hope was an anomaly and not a sign of things to come. David Lee was the only positive in the first half, but with no rest seemed to wear down in the second half, becoming fairly nonexistent.
On the game’s first possession, Lee makes a nice pass out of the post to an open Harrison Barnes who continues his struggles by missing a wide-open three.
Lee matches up against Jason Thompson on defense and Thompson hits an 18-foot jumper in his grill. But Lee comes right back with right-handed hook off a spin move in the lane. On defense, Curry grabs a loose ball at the top of the key and Lee sprints passed DeMarcus Cousins, who is just standing next to Lee with his head down. Lee gets a breakaway dunk thanks to his hustle and Cousins’ lack thereof.
Fast starts are becoming the norm for Lee and he has four of the Warriors first seven points. Lee’s help defense continues to be solid as he steps in to break up a layup attempt.
Confidence soaring, Lee leads a fast break, is met at half court by Cousins and smoothly goes around him with a behind-the-back dribble. He is then fouled en route to the basket and hits two FTs for a 9-8 lead.
A worrisome trend is catching on where Lee is the only Warriors’ starter to play well at the beginning of games. As Lee’s teammates are cold, the Kings catch fire and open up an early 11-point lead.
Lee’s passing continues to be very special as he fakes an outside shot from the wing that freezes the defense, allowing a moving Andris Biedrins (yes, he actually moves) to get open near the basket. Lee zips the ball to him like it was on a string and Biedrins converts an open dunk, which is about the only shot he can convert these days. This makes it 18-27 with 2:54 left in the first quarter.
Doing all he can to keep his team in the game, Lee hits a jumper on the next trip down. He checks out with 1:55 left and the Warriors still down nine.
He checks back in at 11:19 of the second, which is far earlier than normal, but Mark Jackson doesn’t have much of a choice with his team down 11. Lee finally gets some help and, no surprise, it’s from rookie Draymond Green who swoops in for an offensive rebound and taps it right to Lee for a layup. 26-35.
But the Warriors can’t cut into the lead. Carl Landry doesn’t block out Thompson and Thompson grabs an offensive rebound and tips it in over Lee. Landry’s defense can sometimes make Lee’s look Scottie Pippen-esque.
Lee takes a lob pass from Curry and converts a smooth touch pass to Landry, but Landry can’t finish. Jackson is smartly running the offense through Lee, and on a pick-and-roll with Curry, Lee makes a great spin move to quickly split through Marcus Thornton and Thompson for a left-hand layup. He has 16 points but the Warriors still trail by 10 with 8:13 left in the half.
Following Lee’s wide open miss on a jump shot, the Kings hit a three and open a 15-point lead. On the next two trips, Lee posts, draws attention and kicks it to Klay Thompson for an open 3-point shot. Klay makes the first but misses the second.
The night after scoring 19 first-half points, Lee reaches 18 after hitting two free throws that cut the lead to nine with 4:55 left. A pick-and-roll with Curry cuts it to 49-54 with 2:40 left and gives Lee 22 points on 9-13 FG.
Lee scores one more time before checking out with 52 seconds remaining, playing 20 of the 24 first-half minutes. This will be his last time sitting for the rest of the game. The Warriors trail 55-63 at the half.
After a quiet start to the second half, Lee gets in great position to grab an offensive rebound and puts it back to cut Sacramento’s lead to six, 69-75 at the 7:25 mark of the third. Lee hurts his ankle at the 5:54 mark and limps off as a timeout is called. His ankle is fine, but this would have been an ideal time to get Lee some much-needed rest. It is obvious he is drained.
A great example of Lee’s improved decision making comes at the 4:45 mark of the third when Lee catches the ball near the basket with one defender between him and Landry, who is on the other side of the basket. Lee forces the defender to make a choice by making a move to score. As soon as the defender commits to Lee, he drops it off to Landry who gets fouled and makes two free throws.
Despite his fatigue, Lee is battling hard against fellow workhorse Thompson. Watching them battle each other for position is great basketball viewing. Two guys giving maximum effort for minimal space.
Lee’s work pays off as he converts a great follow-up layup off an offensive rebound with 31.2 seconds left in the third to make 88-96. Yes, the Kings have that many points and make it 99 before the buzzer sounds.
Lee opens the fourth quarter with his last field goal of the game, a lefty banker that gives him 28 points and makes it 90-99.
In the previous game against New Orleans, the Curry and Lee pick-and-roll play twice led to a Lee kick-out to Jarrett Jack who found Klay for an open three. The exact play just happened again to make it 95-104 with 9:47 left.
Landry catches fire, scoring Golden State’s next eight points. This is followed by a Jack three and two threes from Curry as the Warriors take a 112-111 lead with 6:23 left. The Kings stop the run and after some back and forth, Lee is fouled but misses one of two free throws. A minute later, he commits a critical turnover, losing the ball in the post. Aaron Brooks follows that with a three to give the Kings a 122-118 lead with 1:37 to play. The Warriors never recover, losing 127-131.
Along with Jack (15 points), Lee was the only Warrior to make an impact in the first half, as he scored 22 of the team’s 55 points. He played the entire second half and while Jackson had some moments in both the third and fourth quarters to rest him, he chose not to risk it as the Warriors were clawing their way back into the game. During Lee’s four minutes on the bench, the Warriors were outscored by four points – the difference in the game. However, this lack of rest may have been the cause of Lee’s non-existence in the fourth quarter. A fresh Lee may have hit both free throws and may not have committed a turnover on a crucial late-game possession. Of course, he may have done both even with rest, but he was also showing visual signs of fatigue during the second half and his lack of scoring is a pretty good sign of this.
Despite just one fourth quarter basket, Lee made a positive impact in other ways. He made nice passes from the post and off pick-and-rolls with Curry (he finished with five assists in the game) and also worked hard on the glass. If he didn’t grab a rebound, his block outs led to rebounds for his teammates.
Another solid game for Lee. He kept them from being blown out in the first half and made sure he did the right things to help the team in the second half when Landry, Curry and Jack were scoring the bulk of the points.
The David Lee Watch will conclude with home games against the Bobcats and Lakers this Friday and Saturday, respectively.