OAKLAND – For all but seven minutes of the first two months of this season, David Lee was a well-paid spectator. A cheerleader as the Warriors, once identified as partially his team ascended to elite status in the NBA.
And when Lee finally made his comeback in late December, it was as a part-timer, a role player who often did not play because there was no appropriate role.
Now, suddenly, in the second round of the playoffs, Lee matters in a credible way.
With backup big man Marreese Speights sidelined with a right calf strain, Lee was the first man off the bench for the Warriors Monday night in Game 4 of their Western Conference semifinal with the Grizzlies.
Moreover, the 6-foot-9 forward was effective. Though his numbers – 5 points, one rebound, one assist and a blocked shot in 15 minutes – weren't impressive, the veteran forward brought positive energy and made an impact in a 101-84 victory.
"It's about just waiting for your opportunity," Lee said. "With Mo, unfortunately, getting hurt, knew I was going to get some minutes in a very important game for us . . . I just wanted to go out there and do my part, and I felt like I did that."
Lee made a contribution on defense, pawing at Marc Gasol just enough to annoy the 7-foot-1 Memphis center. It was a nice surprise, as Lee is a sub-mediocre defender.
"David was great," coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday. "As I told him before the game, he had earned the right to play well."
Decoded, that means the coaching staff considered Lee a good soldier under unenviable circumstances. He was injured early, lost his job to Draymond Green, with whom the team went on a tear. When Lee returned, the career-long starter bit his lip, cashed his paychecks (the biggest on the team) and supported the cause.
"He didn't pout," Kerr said. "He stayed with it. Nothing went his way this year, but he kept saying 'I just want to win. I want to be a part of it, and I'll help any way I can.' And he proved that last night.
"That doesn't just happen. It unfolds with the right approach. And David's had the right approach all year."
Lee, 31, has consistently said he simply wants to contribute in any way he can. He has stuck with this line through games when he played well, played poorly or played not at all.
His work in Game 4 was more than welcome, and might be needed again as Speights' is not expected to play in Game 5 Wednesday night or Game 6 on Friday.