In the final minutes Monday night as the Knicks were desperately scrambling their way back into the game, Courtney Lee raced out ahead of the pack for a breakaway layup. In his first action of the season, he considered his options for heroics.
Dunk? A simple layup? The answer was easy for Lee, just do anything but what he did — miss the open layup with just over two minutes left in the game.
“Too much adrenalin,” Lee said afterward. “I was moving fast. My legs were burning so I didn’t trust them to try to dunk it. But I was going fast so I laid it off the backboard too hard. All in all I’m just happy to be back out there and be able to play again. What other way to welcome me back besides with a blooper? Welcome back, C-Lee.”
The missed layup and a missed free throw in the fourth quarter couldn’t dim the enthusiasm for getting back into action after missing the first 24 games of the season. He was happy enough to be back in action that he laughed at a rookie pointing out his flaws.
“He had a really good first game back,” Kevin Knox said within earshot of Lee. “He played more minutes than a lot of people expected. He hit some good shots and free throws, and missed a layup. But overall, it was a good first game back. It’d be good having him back on the court, getting him back to the offense, getting more touches and stuff like that and some more shots.”
Lee laughed and whispered, “I’m going to fill his car with popcorn.”
He played 16 minutes, scoring seven points — connecting on his only field goal, a three-pointer, with .3 seconds remaining. But just being out there was a step forward after what he feared could have been a career-ending injury. He suffered a neck injury when he collided with Ron Baker in a preseason practice, spasms and nerve irritation not only taking him out of the lineup, but limiting his ability to move.
"It felt good to be honest,” Lee said about his return to action. “Because [my teammates] have seen the battle that I was going up against. They saw how I came in the first day that it happened. I couldn’t move my whole upper body. So it felt good to be able to be back out there because I was definitely nervous that it could have been a career-ending injury. It felt good to have my guys behind me.”
Lee was fouled hard on one play, a Wizards defender jumping over him and colliding with Lee from above as he attempted a shot. But he said that he had been fouled on a similar move in practice by Noah Vonleh and then by Mario Hezonja, a test that readied him for game action. His return now provides the Knicks with a veteran presence, the 33-year-old wing a rare experienced player on the roster. But it also complicates the rotation for coach David Fizdale.
While Fizdale has settled of late on a lineup including Tim Hardaway Jr. at shooting guard and Mario Hezonja at small forward, Damyean Dotson has played well off the bench and Frank Ntilikina has been buried with no playing time in the last two games.
“I don’t like to put a cap on anything,” Fizdale said. “We have too many guys, too many young guys, I’ve got guys sitting right there on the fringe that I know are chomping at the bit to get back in there. So I’m not going to clip the competitiveness and have those guys feeling like they can’t get back in the rotation because that’s not the facts. They can.”