Ray Allen plays like he's not ready for his last shot
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
He's got game, but Ray Allen doesn't have much time. At 34, Allen is the oldest member of the Boston Celtics' aging Big Three and is headed toward unrestricted free agency when the season ends.
So, while the Los Angeles Lakers couldn't catch him on his deer-like jaunts around screens in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night, Allen was in pursuit of much more than open space to drain one of his record eight three-pointers in the Celtics' 103-94 victory. With nothing promised beyond this point, Allen wants to snare a second NBA title with the Celtics while he can. "This moment is our moment," Allen said after the Celtics evened their best-of-seven series with the Lakers at one game, with Game 3 on Tuesday in Boston, "and we've got to take advantage of it."
Allen's opportunity was nearly taken away around the trade deadline, when Danny Ainge, the Celtics' president of basketball operations, dangled Allen and his $19.8 million expiring contract with the hopes of possibly adding a jolt to a roster that appeared to have grown stale. The Wizards had considered a deal for Allen involving Caron Butler before later settling on a deal with Dallas.
But Ainge held on to Allen and the Celtics have benefited ever since, with his dazzling shooting performance on Sunday night -- in which he hit seven consecutive three-pointers in the first half alone -- the latest, and perhaps, shining example. Boston needed Allen to carry his team on a night when Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett -- the other members of Boston's future Hall of Fame trio -- were way off their usual games and the Celtics' big men stayed in foul trouble. Allen accounted for half of Boston's 54 first-half points, as he scored 27 of his game-high 32 in the first two periods.
"I can't say enough about what Ray did for us," said point guard Rajon Rondo, who had a triple-double with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. "He carried us the whole way. Guys were in foul trouble, from Kevin to [Kendrick Perkins], just everyone. We were playing on edge, but Ray, he held us together through it."
After making one of his three-pointers in front of the Celtics' bench, Allen looked over and smiled in a scene reminiscent of Michael Jordan shrugging his shoulders after making six first-half three-pointers in the 1992 Finals against Portland, a record Allen broke.
"I do remember that. Mike, I'm going to tell him that his were a lot easier," said Allen, a Jordan shoe brand endorser.
Allen's jump shot has always served as an instruction video, with his precision, machine-like motion and release. He holds the record for three-pointers in one season (269) and is second all-time in three-pointers made (2,444) -- 116 shy of future Hall of Famer Reggie Miller. He also has the best NBA Finals three-point field goal percentage (54.5) after hitting a record 22 when the Celtics won the title in 2008.
His practice routine borders on obsessive-compulsive disorder, which he readily admits, and Coach Doc Rivers said Allen's accuracy is not an accident. "He's a perfectionist," said Rivers, loosely estimating that Allen took "a million shots" in the two days. "It's no coincidence that the great shooters are great shooters; they work on it more. Ray shows up three hours before every game, he's out there shooting. There's a reason they can shoot. He believes in it and we believe in it."
Allen was especially focused on Sunday after foul trouble kept him from having any influence on Game 1. His teammates said he seemed more ornery than usual in the two practices after that loss, in which he had 12 points and missed both of his three-point attempts. Pierce said he looked like "somebody took his ball."
"The game, and then the four or five days before that was frustrating because I like to get out there and play. I like to get the ball bouncing," Allen said. "You have to have patience, but for me, anything else going on in my life is put on hold because it's hard to focus on anything else. Like I tried to play golf a couple days ago, and I really couldn't focus on it because my mind was thinking every second, you know, 'How am I going to guard Kobe on this play?' "
With this possibly serving as a final stand for the Celtics -- Pierce has a player option worth more than $21 million and could become a free agent this summer -- Allen said he is cherishing each step of this run. He was also pleased to best the old Finals three-point record he once shared with Kenny Smith (1995) and Scottie Pippen (1997).
"It's definitely up right up there," Allen said. "Because there's no better place, moment, time to play a game, to win a game, and to win in a great fashion, where everybody has to do it together. Great to be able to look back and say I did that. This is definitely the team. This definitely our time."
After his performance on Sunday, Pierce suggested that Allen may have more nights like that ahead of him. "He's ageless," Pierce said. "I don't even know how old he is, the way he's been playing."