Celtics guard Ray Allen played a handful of his collegiate games inside the XL Center, but Saturday's game felt more like a homecoming based on a chance encounter backstage at one of Boston's final regular-season games here in Hartford.
Back on Feb. 23, 1995, Allen and some UConn teammates trekked down from their Storrs apartment to watch Boston host the Orlando Magic in what would be the second-to-last regular-season Celtics game this arena would host (an agreement between the team and the stadium lapsed, leaving only the occasional exhibition game).
Then came a chance encounter outside the visitor's locker room that proved to then-19-year-old Allen he belonged in the NBA, in large part because he wasn't awed by the moment.
"I don't know how I found my way in the back, but I remember meeting [Shaq] and [Anfernee] 'Penny' [Hardaway]," recalled Allen. "I don't know, it felt as though it was just like a natural progression... I had an awareness of who I was and what I could do if I kept my nose to the grind[stone]. That was just affirmation."
Allen returned for his junior season at UConn in 1995-96 and averaged 23.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game before declaring for the draft where the Milwaukee Bucks tabbed him with the fifth overall pick.
Now 15 years after that chance meeting, Allen is a teammates with O'Neal, and he can admit how much of a fan he was of Shaq on his way to the league.
"I think I had his shoes on at the time [of the meeting]," said Allen. "I always wore his shoes in college -- not to play in, but I had a pair of them that I wore around. It's very ironic because... I was a big fan of his when I was in high school and college."
But he can't wear O'Neal's shoes any more, retro pumps or the newer models.
"They were Reebok at the time and I'm a Nike guy," said Allen. "So that will never happen again."
Allen finished with a quiet night on the familiar floor, scoring four points on 1-of-5 shooting over nearly 20 minutes of action.
SHAQ'S RECIPE FOR SUCCESS: JAMBALAYA AND CHIMICHANGAS
The Celtics want Shaquille O'Neal to be more vocal on the court. He certainly has no problem with that off the floor.
After chipping in six points, three rebounds, and two assists over 13:38 in his first action since sitting out the past three preseason games, O'Neal retreated to the bench and cheered on fellow LSU big man Glen Davis. Those words of encouragement?
"Jambalaya, barbecue chicken, and chimichangas," O'Neal said with a straight face after the game. "It's an LSU thing. I can't tell you, it's all secret society code."
Fortunately for the media, O'Neal broke that code during the game. After his initial screams of "Jambalaya" as Davis drilled a face-up jumper over a Knicks defender, O'Neal turned to the media and noted, "It means eat [the defender] up down there."
O'Neal employed a similar tactic earlier this preseason with Semih Erden, but the language barrier prevented him from sending it in the form of secret message. Instead, O'Neal simply yelled, "Semih, kill him!" as Erden worked against an incredulous Marreese Speights during last week's exhibition opener against the Philadelphia 76ers in Manchester, N.H.
Davis could only laugh when presented with the buzzwords after the game. They seemed to work on the court as he finished with 15 points and seven rebounds, continuing his inspired preseason play.
LASME SPENDS AN EXTRA NIGHT IN HARTFORD
Fearing an issue with international travel, the Celtics kept Stephane Lasme in the states Friday night as the team trekked north of the border for a preseason battle with the Toronto Raptors. Lasme ended up driving to Hartford and tried to watch the game from his hotel room, but limited channels made that a difficult task.
Not as difficult as watching his team compete and not being able to showcase his talents, particularly on a night when Von Wafer -- his chief competitor for a final roster spot -- turned in his best preseason performance in green.
But Lasme contends he's not thinking about the tough decision Boston's brass faces before the start of the regular season.
"To be honest, I don't think about [the competition for a final roster spot]," said Lasme. "I didn't think I was going to get this far, so I'm just trying to enjoy the whole process."
Lasme got back into the action Saturday night in Hartford, registering seven points on 3-of-3 shooting with four rebounds over nearly 19 minutes of action. But it was one of his more frustrating nights, getting tagged with five fouls, including two offensive calls against him.
Even still, Lasme continues to play extremely hard and is expending a lot of energy doing the little things that float under the radar (especially setting screens). Wafer finished with eight points on 2-of-4 shooting (hitting a pair of trifectas) while adding five rebounds over 24:30.