Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Marathon man Allen sprints to finish
By Greg Payne
BOSTON -- Call it what you want: Breaking the mold, refusing to back down, defying the odds -- maybe even physics, or some unofficial law of nature. Whatever it is, Ray Allen seems to have mastered it.
As NBA players age into their 30s, they are expected to break down physically and produce less than what they put forth during the prime of their careers. They're not expected to do what Allen did to the Washington Wizards on Monday night, which was produce a monster 27-point effort on 9-of-16 shooting -- including 6-of-7 from 3-point nation -- that propelled the Celtics to a hard-fought 100-92 victory, their third straight and first on the second night of a back-to-back this season.
"Classic Ray Allen, man," was all that Kevin Garnett needed to say afterward. "Classic Ray Allen."
Classic Ray Allen, on all fronts. He was lights-out from deep, outpaced his defender around numerous screens that led to open jump shots, pulled up for open 3-pointers in transition, and, most importantly, hit crucial shots when the Celtics needed them.
The C's trailed 70-69 heading into the final quarter, but Allen buried four pivotal baskets in the fourth -- three of which were 3-pointers -- tallying 11 points. His first, a 3-pointer on the right wing off of a feed from Garnett, gave the Celtics a 75-74 advantage they would not relinquish.
His final three baskets cushioned that lead, snuffing out any hopes of a late Wizards rally. Allen curled off a screen set by Garnett and buried a jumper on the left wing, and followed it up with another 3-pointer less than a minute later, which pushed Boston's lead to nine with 4:30 to play.
Three minutes later, Allen sealed it as he streaked toward the left wing on a fast break initiated by a Paul Pierce steal. Pierce tore down the middle, drawing in Washington's retreating defenders, and kicked it out to a wide-open Allen, who obliged by sinking another 3-pointer, putting Boston ahead by eight and the game out of reach.
"Ray’s doing what he does for us, making big clutch shots at opportune times, and he’s been doing that ever since he’s been here, and we try to get the ball to him as much as possible in those situations," Pierce said. "More times than not, he comes through."
Allen's history of such baskets led Pierce to kick the ball out to him late in the fourth, as opposed to him taking on multiple defenders and trying to score a tough basket or draw a foul.
"Any time you have one of the all-time great shooters out there on the wing wide open, it’s a no-brainer to me to get him the ball," Pierce said. "Unless I have a clear-cut layup -- I saw Ray open in the corner, I just wanted to get him the ball."
Allen scored 16 of his 27 points in the first half on 5-of-11 shooting, with 11 of those points coming in the opening quarter. He went scoreless in the third frame, taking a backseat to Pierce, who, after a 4-of-11 performance in the first half, awoke in the third to score eight points on 3-of-5 shooting. But Allen was conscious of keeping his rhythm, knowing his club might well need him to help fend off the Wizards in the fourth.
"If you let your mind drift, it can be tough," Allen said. "You can drift right out of a good rhythm. It's like tricking yourself to believe that I'm right there and that nothing is lost. You've got to stay focused because it comes in spurts, and sometimes it goes away from you for a while, especially with the level of skilled offensive players we have on this team. You just have to be a facilitator and then when it comes around you've got to be ready."
Monday night enhanced another impressive start to the season for Allen. Through six games, he's averaging 18.6 points on 56.6 percent shooting from the field and 55.2 percent shooting from 3-point land. Allen turned 36 last July, but he has come to embody a characteristic most closely associated with a bottle of fine wine: With age comes improvement. And as Allen's level of performance doesn't drop off as one might expect, he continues to amaze those around him, including coach Doc Rivers.
"Marathon man," Rivers said afterward. "He was great. He just kept going. I would never want to guard that guy. He just never stops moving. I can’t imagine the miles Nick Young had to [run] because he had to chase him all game." (Allen estimated it was four miles after the game.)
Oh, and Allen played the game while battling the sniffles. But as he said with a shrug after the game, "It was almost like the cold gave me a reprieve during the game and then I sat down in the locker room afterward, my nose just started running and I started coughing again." Not even a defiant immune system could slow Allen.
Classic Ray Allen? By normal NBA standards, sure. But this classic is once again playing like a brand new model.