Lee re-discovers his championship-caliber defense

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Lee re-discovers his championship-caliber defense

BOSTON - Courtney Lee had a breakout game offensively Thursday night in Brooklyn with 18 points.

But it was his defense that literally stole the show in Boston's blowout win.

For all that the C's did well defensively against the Nets, no one seemed to benefit more than Lee who began the game with the first of his game-high four steals which led to a dunk.

Even more impressive was the defensive job he did on Joe Johnson which was among the keys to Boston playing with a lead the entire night.

Johnson had 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting which included him missing eight of his nine shots in the first half with Lee being the primary defender on him most of the time.

"I'm just a competitor," Lee told Comcast SportsNet. "I like that. He (Johnson) is an All-Star player. So what better player to go up against to test your defense than an All-Star player?"

Celtics coach Doc Rivers sees Lee returning to the better-than-average form he displayed earlier in his career with Orlando.

"Courtney was the best defender on the floor," Rivers said. "He does a lot of tough things."

And he goes about it in a quiet, unassuming manner. But don't let the soft spoken demeanor fool you.

"He doesn't say too much, but he's competitive, man," said Paul Pierce. "He doesn't care who you are. He's always confident in his defense and we are, too."

Added Rivers: "Courtney's important for us. We want a defensive unit to start games."

And that likely means Lee will be in the starting lineup at shooting guard instead of Jason Terry.

"Start, come off the bench. It doesn't matter to me," Lee said. "We have enough talent that there's really no let-off in whoever is out there. Me, JT (Jason Terry), we both can impact games."

Terry, a former Sixth man of the year award winner (2009), is known for his clutch, long-range shooting.

Meanwhile, Lee is laying the groundwork to establish himself as a top flight defender. Rivers isn't surprised to see Lee perform at a high level defensively.

"We thought he was (a good defender)," Rivers said. "He was in Orlando."

Lee's rookie season with the Magic ended with a trip to the NBA Finals, the only team he has played with that was a legit title contender.

And it's not a coincidence that his defense since then hasn't stood out as much ... until now.

"The last winning team he was on, yes, he was a heck of a defender," Rivers said. "And now he's getting that back again which is good."

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Raptors

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Celtics-Raptors preview: DeRozan, Lowry a challenge for Bradley, C's

Celtics-Raptors preview: DeRozan, Lowry a challenge for Bradley, C's

BOSTON – Avery Bradley doesn’t mind being a standout, but this is probably not what he had in mind. 

Injuries have ravaged the Boston Celtics’ starting five to the point where only one player, Bradley, has been with the first unit in all 22 games this season. 

Just like Bradley was looked upon to step his game up in the absence of Isaiah Thomas (right groin) at Orlando on Wednesday, he will once again be challenged to lead Boston (13-9) to victory tonight when the Thomas-less Celtics face the Toronto Raptors. 

Bradley’s emergence as a two-way talent this season has overshadowed at times what has been another season of elite play defensively. 

And he’ll need to be on top of his defensive game tonight against a Raptors All-Star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. 

Both Lowry and DeRozan present a different kind of challenge for Bradley who will spend time defending each of them at various points during the game. 

Lowry has good size, strength and deceptive quickness in addition to an under-rated perimeter game that will keep Bradley on his toes for sure. 

This season he's averaging 20.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and a career-high 7.6 assists while shooting 42.9 percent on 3's which is also a career mark. 

And DeRozan is having the kind of season that might get him a few league MVP votes. 

His 28.0 points per game ranks fifth in the NBA, but making his numbers even more impressive is that unlike most guards DeRozan doesn’t generate much offense from three-pointers.

DeRozan averages 1.8 three-point attempts per game which is the fewest attempts among any player ranked among the league’s top-25 scorers.

The 6-foot-7 All-Star is the master of the mid-range game which accounts for 31.5 percent of the points he scores. And when he’s not shooting the mid-range, he’s working a defender in one-on-one iso-situations. 

That helps explain why 76.4 percent of his two-point made field goals are unassisted. 

But here’s the thing about Bradley. 

As much as we give him props for what he does defensively, it’s his offense that has put him on the map as a potential All-Star this season. 

Bradley is averaging a career-high 17.9 points while shooting 47.2 percent from the field. He’s also averaging a career-high 7.8 rebounds per game in addition to shooting a career-high 40.7 percent on 3's.

But for Bradley, individual accolades are only going to come his way by the Celtics winning games; preferably against above-average teams like the Toronto Raptors.

And that would make both Bradley and the Celtics stand out this season.