Sunday, April 4, 2010
Big Three talk it out
By Chris Forsberg ESPNBoston.com
BOSTON -- Following Friday's frustrating overtime loss to the Houston Rockets, Boston's Big Three huddled for a rare postgame meal to discuss what was ailing the team.
"I thought Houston was pretty much the last straw for us. That's why we decided to go out after that game and talk about it," explained captain Paul Pierce, as Kevin Garnett nodded in affirmation at their joint postgame news conference following Sunday's 117-113 triumph over the Cleveland Cavaliers at the TD Garden.
"We said, 'If we're going to go anywhere [in the postseason], we gotta be the leaders.' The other guys have to step up also, and we don't want to take anything away from [Rajon] Rondo and [Kendrick Perkins], but we have to go out there and be consistent, on a night-in and night-out basis."
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are about to fight Zydrunas Ilgauskus for a loose ball on Sunday.
Clearly those words resonated with Ray Allen, who was coming off maybe his most frustrating outing in a Boston uniform. After enduring a scoreless first half against Houston, Allen fouled out with 2:13 to play in regulation, finishing with a mere five points (making the only two shots he took) and leaving his team short-handed as the game spilled to an extra session thanks in part to the foul shots generated by his last infraction.
On Sunday, Allen poured in a season-high 33 points, his first 30-point output in more than a year (he scored 32 points vs. Orlando on March 8, 2009), connecting on 6-of-9 3-pointers, including a pivotal trifecta with 47.9 seconds to go that proved enough to allow Boston to hang on.
For 34-year-old Allen, marred in a bit of a slump after initially upping his production after the trade deadline passed, it showed he's still able to shoulder this team with his Big Three brethren.
"[The dinner] was just something we haven't had a chance to do based on the schedule," said Allen. "I can't say that it helped or hurt today. But regardless of what happens, there's never any animosity, and that's always good to know you have each other's respect."
None of the participants would disclose the venue, but Garnett suggested the Big Three equally divided the expenses, with Pierce paying for the valet, Garnett for dinner, and Allen for dessert.
On Sunday, Garnett scored 19 points with eight rebounds, while Pierce chipped in 16 points, five rebounds, and five assists. But Allen provided the largest contribution.
He produced a pair of driving layups in the opening 90 seconds, showing an aggressiveness that's been lacking at times lately. Only one of his five first-half field goals came from beyond the arc.
"I think early in the game, it's just about having a great start," said Allen when asked if he needed to be more assertive. "I was thinking about being aggressive on the plays that I had. It wasn't necessarily a need to score the basketball, but I had to make plays, try to make some stuff easier on Paul and get the bigs involved. Just make it sharp, make it snappy.
"Too many times we'll move the ball, and if I take a tough shot early, it staggers our offense. Doc [Rivers, on one of] the first [plays] of the game, he put the ball in my hands and I just wanted to be sure I made something just sharp. I think that got me aggressive, making sharp cuts, making sure that I was aggressive. I try not to dictate what I'm going to do with the ball. When I come off pindowns, I know they think I'm gonna shoot it, but there are so many gaps in there I just took them."
That changed in the third quarter when, with the Cleveland defense sufficiently on its heels, all six shots he took came from 3-point range. Allen splashed four of them as Boston's lead ballooned to 17 at the end of the frame.
As Cleveland rallied back to take the lead in the fourth quarter, Allen's only shot attempt was the pivotal 3-pointer he splashed on a kick-out from a driving Pierce to put Boston out front 112-108 with 47.9 seconds to go. The Celtics hung on from there.
Rivers spent a lot of time talking to Allen at the end of practice Saturday in Waltham. He said that chat helped generate the results seen on the floor Sunday.
"[Allen] was terrific -- I honestly like what he's doing," said Rivers. "You know, catch and shoot, catch and attack. We had a long talk about it [Saturday], about not dancing with the ball, but attacking with the ball -- straight line drives."
Once his teammates saw Allen had it going, it was an easy decision to get him the ball. Especially for Pierce.
"Well, when you make a pass to one of the great shooters of all time -- besides myself -- you expect him to make it," Pierce said with a smile as Garnett groaned. "We knew he'd have a bounce-back game. The great thing about this team is we stay together. Ray realized he didn't play well -- he didn't play at all [vs. Houston]. We kind of had a chance to sit down after the game, go out, eat something, and talk about the last game and what we have to do better.
"We have to step up as leaders and Ray really knew that. He was ready to come here and step up, especially after the last game, which was out of character for him to foul out in that type of minutes. He proved it. He stepped up big. Without that effort, who knows how this game goes?"
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.