<
>

A Ray of hope?

Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty

Ray Allen drives to the rim against Mike Bibby and the Heat.Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn't lay out the ideal number of shots he would like to see Ray Allen take against the Miami Heat the way he did for Kevin Garnett, but it's safe to say the figure would be larger than the four he took in the first half of Monday's 98-90 Game 4 defeat.

In fact, Allen's offense hasn't been highlighted much over the course of the current series, despite the fact that he was such an important part of Boston's offensive success in the opening round of the playoffs against the New York Knicks. In that series, Allen rifled off an acceptable 13.5 field goal attempts per game, which helped him procure the 22 points he averaged over the course of the four-game sweep.

But so far against the Heat, Allen's attempts have been more inconsistent, bringing back memories of the final weeks of the regular season when his offense was sputtering as a result of not taking enough shots at the basket. After taking 13 shots and scoring 25 points in Game 1, he managed just seven field goal attempts in Game 2, and that figure rose only to 11 in Game 3.

It was looking like Game 4 would closely resemble Game 2 for Allen over the first 24 minutes, but after halftime the light bulb appeared to go off for the Celtics, as Allen became much more involved in the offense, matching his first-half shot total with four third-quarter attempts and finishing the frame having scored 10 points. He would finish the game with 17 points on 5-of-12 shooting from the field, with his greatest contribution coming with a little over two minutes left in regulation, when he buried a clutch 3-pointer to put Boston ahead by three.

Allen's success in Game 1 would obviously be the blueprint, but a combination of the Heat tightening things up defensively and the Celtics still sputtering at times on offense has led to less production in the three games since.

"I can say [the Heat] are doing a better job of [defending me]," said Allen after Monday's game. "But there's a sense of us, offensively, where I think we're just a slight bit holding onto the ball when we don't get those bang-bang passes where we get those open shots."

In terms of offensive production, no Celtics player relies more on the ball hopping from one side of the floor to the other than Allen, and the crisp ball movement that was on display more routinely against the Knicks in the first round is much more absent against Miami. Even in Game 1 -- Allen's finest performance of the series -- the shots he took were not his usual ones that came after running around multiple screens set by his teammates.

"Even Game 1, I wasn't running a lot of the stuff that we ran consistently over the course of the year," Allen said back on May 5 following the Celtics' two losses in Miami to start the series. "It was just all, almost, just kind of get the ball out and swing and I ended up getting shots. That's why we feel as though we still have room to grow in this series and be ourselves first and then grow from who we are."

That growth hasn't happened fully, and while Allen's had flashes of offensive success, he hasn't been able to garner the consistency that was present against the Knicks. While the defense of Dwyane Wade and the Heat as a team deserve credit, the Celtics also have to point to themselves for not having the type of ball or player movement on that end of the floor that will help free up Allen for easier looks. The second half of Monday's game -- when Allen took a total of eight shots -- was a much better example of how he can stay involved and the Celtics can benefit as a result.

Not having Rajon Rondo at 100 percent isn't helping matters for the C's. The usual conductor of Boston's offense, who struggled in Games 1 and 2 finding a comfortable rhythm and suffered a dislocated left elbow in Game 3, is unable to orchestrate with his typical effectiveness.

The Celtics were banking on Rondo and Kevin Garnett exploiting their respective matchups with Mike Bibby/Mario Chalmers and Chris Bosh, and were simultaneously hoping Paul Pierce and Allen could keep pace with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. So far, Wade (29.3 points per game) has nearly doubled the offensive output of Allen (16 points per game).

The Celtics can't afford to wait to get Allen rolling again. They're now staring a 3-1 deficit in the face and will be on the brink of elimination for the remainder of this series. The Celtics will need consistency on all fronts, and Allen's offensive production will be no exception.

Greg Payne is a student intern for ESPNBoston.com