When Courtney Lee rose off the Madison Square Garden court and released a high-arcing 3-pointer that went softly through the nylon to give the Knicks a one-point lead with 10.6 seconds remaining, he put the cap on a 16-point performance the Knicks need more of for the duration of his four-year, $50 million contract.
However, the final 10.6 seconds proved to be too much time for the Knicks to hold off the Raptors, the game ending in a demoralizing 92-91 loss Monday night.
“It’s tough,” Lee said. “I think we started the game the right way, and throughout the game, we had spurts where we played it the right way and played for each other.”
And one of the main reasons the Knicks (24-36) had a chance to topple the Eastern Conference’s second-best team was their veteran guard.
Lee scored 11 of his 16 points during a first half where the Knicks compiled a 15-point lead over the Raptors (36-24), showcasing an opportunistic offensive attack, sturdy defense and a high basketball IQ.
It’s nothing new for Lee. While Joakim Noah struggled early in the season before undergoing knee surgery and Derrick Rose proving to be a flawed addition to the triangle offense, Lee has chugged along as the lone consistent contributor among the big-ticket acquisitions.
Lee’s lack of involvement in the third quarter, when he attempted all of one shot, seemed to stymie the Knicks’ offense and defense.
“We were helping each other out, we were active,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said after the game. “We were taking shots that were a little bit quicker. We were missing some jump shots.”
It’s why as the season heads toward its conclusion for the fading Knicks, Lee needs to assert himself more on the court. No longer can he sit idly by and be a situational role player.
For the Knicks to take the next step, Lee’s fingerprints need to be on every game.
Against the Raptors, Lee filled the stat sheet with a team-high five steals, added two blocks, dished out three assists — including a one on a go-ahead 3 from Lance Thomas with 1:57 remaining — and three rebounds. Lee also displayed the range from deep, going 3-of-4 from 3-point land.
“We can watch film and see when we’re playing a certain way, this is how hard it is to guard us and beat us,” Lee said. “When we’re helping each other on defense, this is how you get it done and get stops. We just have to put it together for 48 minutes.”
Or it could just as simple as Lee being more involved.
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