Ray Allen arrives just in time
Playing through pain, he's re-emerged as the deadly weapon the Celtics need
I think we need to check Ray Allen's passport. Did he make a quick trip to Lourdes when we weren't paying attention? Did he make a secret overnight visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina to worship at the shrine at Medjugorje?
We are not seeing vintage Allen in this Eastern Conference finals series between Boston and Miami. No one is even suggesting that. Vintage Ray wouldn't have hit the side of the backboard with a 3-point attempt, as he did Sunday night in the Celtics' 93-91 victory over the Heat that squared the series at 2-2.[+] EnlargeJesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesAllen played 46 minutes and had 16 points, including four big 3-pointers, in the Celtics' overtime Game 4 win.
But we are seeing something perhaps even more stunning: a soon-to-be 37-year-old dealing with bone spurs in his right ankle whose play is improving as the games and playing time increase. He is averaging 41.5 minutes a game in this series, which resumes Tuesday night in Miami.
How does that happen?
It wasn't that long ago that Doc Rivers was thinking of playing Allen in alternate games to give his ankle time to recover. It wasn't that long ago that Allen himself was wondering if he would be able to play at all in the postseason. He had missed the last nine games of the regular season and the first two games of the Atlanta series, and, as he put it after his 16-point, 46-minute submission in the Celtics' overtime Game 4 victory, "at my lowest point, I was ready to have surgery. It just wasn't getting any better."
But he hasn't missed a game since. There were times when it looked painful for him -- he bricked an unthinkable four free throws in Game 1 of this series -- and there were comparisons to Allen being the basketball version of Willie Mays in his final, awkward days with the New York Mets. His shot wasn't dropping; he was posting career lows for both 2- and 3-point percentage. He couldn't guard anyone.
But, like the team for which he plays, he has found a way. The 46 minutes he played Sunday night represented his longest stint of the season. He has managed to deal with the bone spurs to the point where, after Game 4, one Earvin Johnson offered the following observation: "The one shooter that [the Celtics] need to get going, Ray Allen, he's going now."
Allen was 6-for-16 from the field in Game 4 and is still shooting an unAllen-like 38.1 percent in the series. It's even worse (36 percent) from 3-point territory. He's averaging only 11.3 points a game in this series, but that is better than his overall playoff average of 10.3. He averaged a shocking 8.9 points a game in the Philadelphia series.
Oh, and he's doing all this while trying to guard Dwyane Wade. He's getting help, but there are times when it's just him and Wade out there. He's even had to deal with guarding LeBron James one-on-one.
Asked before Game 4 if he was seeing any difference in the way Allen is moving, Rivers said, "I don't know. I just think he's more comfortable with what's going on with his ankle and foot.
"So, yeah, I guess that would be a difference. I think he's kind of figured out his balance issue. I think he's shooting it quicker with better balance, which is good."
How many of us expected much of anything from Allen this postseason? We didn't get a whole lot against the Hawks or the Sixers. He made only one basket and missed two free throws in the clinching Game 6 against Atlanta, and then had only 33 points in the final five games of the Philadelphia series, shooting 12-of-36 from the field. He did score 17 points, his playoff high, in Game 2 against the Sixers.
But you didn't hear his name mentioned much at all when everyone was forecasting the Miami series -- and then he went out and shot 1-of-7 from the field and 3-of-7 from the line in Game 1.
That was when Rivers talked about possibly playing Allen every other game. Maybe that spurred Allen, for in the last three games, he has scored 13, 10 and 16 points. He knows that the only way to fully heal is to go under the knife, and that that day surely is a-comin'. But he's been successful at cheating the surgeon to date.[+] EnlargeJim Davis/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesWho expected Allen to average 41.5 minutes a game in this series against the Heat?
After talking about how depressed he was about the ankle not responding to rest and therapy initially, Allen said, "I just stayed with it and stayed off of it and did what I had to do, and it just progressively got better over time."
He added that "there is a percentage of mind over matter. For me, as aggressive as I run, coming off screens, I have to almost be a little ginger going in certain directions, so I don't aggravate it too much more than it already is. I know what I'm dealing with, so I try to work through that."
Crossing Allen off his personal endangered species list is one thing that Rivers can now, apparently, do. As Magic said, Allen is now a lot more than an expensive decoy out there. He's starting to find his rhythm and his range.
There are obvious, other concerns, like what on earth happened to the Celtics' offense in the second half in Game 4? Rajon Rondo stopped pushing the pace, even as he was as careful with the ball as he has been in a while: all three of his turnovers came on offensive fouls. Rivers has to find a way to keep Kevin Garnett on the floor; the Celtics are a plus-25 when he's out there and a minus-19 when he isn't. That may get even worse if, as expected, Chris Bosh returns for Game 5.
But the one bonus in all this for the coach and his team has been the unexpected mini-resurgence of a sore-ankled shooter who turns 37 next month. Who saw this coming?
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