Ray Allen rediscovers arc of triumph
MIAMI -- Ray Allen was here last season, in a Game 7, in the Eastern Conference finals, in AmericanAirlines Arena.
But when that was over, he felt like an outsider. His Boston Celtics lost to LeBron James and last year's eventual champs. And as it came time for Miami to celebrate, Allen and his Boston teammates were ushered aside while the Heat reveled in their designated area, secured by yellow ropes.
"I was telling 'Bron, 'I'm glad to be on this side of the ropes,'" Allen said. "I've lost two Eastern Conference finals where I got sent home after playing on the road and you lose. That's the toughest feeling that you ever have to deal with. I hated that feeling."
You could feel Allen's anguish after that Game 7 loss last postseason. Not only did his Celtics fail in two opportunities to send the Heat packing, but he had been playing on painful ankles, and what faced him was a difficult free agency decision.
He chose Miami.
He chose it for this reason, to reach his third Finals and an opportunity to win his second championship.
The fact that the Heat were so close to losing in this round again might've also had a little something to do with Allen.
Through six games in this series versus the physical, long, defensive-minded Pacers, Allen was shooting 28 percent from the floor, 29 percent from his cherished 3-point area, and there were rumblings that Erik Spoelstra should consider playing Mike Miller ahead of Allen.
But Spoelstra never wavered, trusting Allen would eventually provide the scoring burst that can demoralize opponents.
Allen finally offered that in Game 7.
With the game tied 23-23 early in the second quarter, Allen nailed his first 3 off a pass from James.
A couple minutes later, his second three came off a pass from Norris Cole. And the final 3-pointer seemed to signal that a Heat rout was on the way. He curled off a screen, caught a James pass and shot a somewhat contested 3 with no hesitation.
It made the score 44-34 with 3:22 left in the first half. And it made certain Allen would make his mark on this series after all.
He only scored 10 points, joining LeBron and Dwyane Wade as the only double-figure Heat scorers, but it was largely because of his shooting that Miami was able to gain separation from Indiana before halftime. Separation that had been so difficult to achieve throughout this series.
"You're never certain," Allen said of his ability to rebound after the first six games. "That's the one thing, trying to find your moments of attack out there on the floor. You just keep your mind in it, keep your body in it.
"I thought tonight we got better shots. First of all, we got stops and were able to run in transition. We got better shots, the ball was moving."
The Heat's pace-and-space offense had been pretty limited in this series, with Indiana able to close out on Miami's shooters as well as any team has this season.
So Allen, who said he looked at every shot he took in this series prior to Game 7, was the Heat's best hope to open up the floor.
Mario Chalmers had moments in Games 5 and 6, hitting two 3-pointers in each. But Allen's usual shooting partner, Shane Battier, was slowly taken out of the rotation. He played eight minutes in Game 5, four minutes in Game 6 and was the lone Heat player with a DNP-CD in Game 7.
Miller essentially took Battier's minutes Monday, going 17 scoreless minutes.
"The bottom line is, Shane played great when he had the opportunities," Miller said. "I expect it to go back to the way it was. Shane will be ready for San Antonio, and if they call my number I'll be ready. We have a lot of depth on this team."
So yes, LeBron knocked down a 3. Sure, Chris Bosh hit a second-quarter 3 that sent him into one of his entertaining celebrations, complete with spittle and screams directed at no one in particular. And Cole joined the party late with a 3 of his own.
But it was Allen that provided the true balance that disheartened the Pacers during a devastating second quarter.
"You guys may talk about what has happened," Allen said. "But the moments are always what we have in front of us. Once they're gone, there's nothing you can do anymore. I try not to live with regrets. I don't live with regrets. So when I look at this moment in front of me, I say, 'What can I do with this moment?'"
But Allen still has some painful times vivid in his memory. Last year's Game 7 loss is among them.
"That's why coming into this game today I had, I won't say anxiety, just nervousness because I wanted the right thing to happen for us," said Allen, who lost to the Spurs in the 2005 Western Conference semifinals as a member of the Sonics.
Allen said he and his family wanted to be "selfish" when deciding where to play this season. He said he wanted to win, didn't want to struggle.
He struggled for most of this series, but still won. And that, already, validates his choice to come to Miami. This Game 7 feeling is confirmation.
"Sometimes you take a gamble," Allen said. "My family believed in me and we're here, and I can say we're in the situation that we put ourselves in and we're happy with it. We know that we can see the end of the road."