Courtney Lee was illustrating a point by doing a good impression of Rajon Rondo’s ballhandling antics after the Celtics’ 102-97 loss in Brooklyn on Thursday night.
“When you’re coming down the court, you’re just used to him doing all this,” Lee said, flipping an imaginary basketball through his legs and around his back.
But with Rondo out with a sprained right ankle — his status will be confirmed Saturday for an afternoon contest against Toronto — Lee is being called on to be one of the Celtics’ fill-in point guards.
Lee, Leandro Barbosa, and Jason Terry were able to ignite the Celtics’ offense for much of the Nets game, but they had difficulty commanding the team in half-court sets, especially in the contest’s late stages.
“I mean, that’s just Rajon,” Lee said. “He hasn’t been out, and it’s just a different look. So, yeah, anything compared to him is a different look. He’s one of the best point guards, so I’m just trying to fill in and do what he does — but it’s just not going to happen.”
Lee, with his fourth team in five years, is developing into a versatile role player. He played 33 minutes off the bench and had 13 points and a team-leading nine rebounds against the Nets, providing the Celtics with their final lead of the game on a drive for an 87-85 advantage with six minutes to go. Coach Doc Rivers called Lee the Celtics’ “best defensive player” in the game.
“I mean, they had  offensive rebounds in the first half,” Lee said of his rebounding. “The defensive scheme we had, we had one of the bigs show when Joe Johnson was posting up, and that was leaving two bigs down low. We had to come down and help the bigs because they help us when we need help. So, just getting my hands dirty a little bit.”
In his previous stops, Lee has demonstrated his shooting ability on the perimeter. But with the Celtics, Lee has been more effective on pull-up jumpers and slashing drives, slumping to 3 for 16 on 3-pointers. Inside the arc, Lee is shooting 19 for 32 (59.4 percent).
Lee’s struggles reflect how he, and the other Celtic newcomers, are adjusting to the team’s system.
“It’s still early in the season, everybody is still feeling out everything,” Lee said. “It’s going to come quick.
“I have to try to be aggressive. Doc’s told me that’s something he wants me to do. Being aggressive doesn’t mean just scoring, I just need to make sure I have that mind-set at all times.”
Rivers has been urging Barbosa, Lee, and others to rely on instincts rather than try to rigorously follow schemes. But this becomes difficult in half-court sets, when the opposition knows the Celtics’ plays and tendencies as well as some of the newcomers.
Against the Nets, the Celtics found effective combinations for long periods of time, following the point guard relay team of Barbosa, Lee, and Terry. The Celtics have rehearsed plays without Rondo. So, when it comes to getting on the stage, the stand-ins know their lines.
“That’s how we practice, whether I’m on the green team or white team, I’m the point guard sometimes,” Lee said. “We’ve got sets where I’m off the ball, Barbosa or JT is off the ball. And we all get in at the point, so in a case like this, we’ll be prepared.”
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Chris Wilcox, after a 6-point game against the Nets, is shooting 12 for 14 from the field (85.7 percent) and 16 for 20 (80 percent) from the foul line in 92 minutes of actions this season.
“[Lee] and Chris Wilcox, that’s how they have to be every night,” Rivers said. “Chris, the first half didn’t know where he was at. Second half, he played with tremendous energy. That’s who he is.”
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.