Ray Allen felt the 18,624 souls in TD Banknorth Garden trying to will the ball into the basket for him. Why not resort to the power of positive thinking? Everything else had failed.
Last night, at halftime of the Celtics' 89-73 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinals series, Allen was 0 for 3 from the floor, 0 for 7 in the series, and had gone six consecutive quarters without a point.
Then it happened. Just 22 seconds into the third quarter, Allen put the ball in the basket on a transition layup. His reaction reverberated throughout the Garden.
"I think everybody else was relieved, too," said Allen. "It was like my first time getting on the floor, and I just got traded here or something and everybody was [feeling] like that's his first bucket in this building. When you're in a situation like that, you just have to keep fighting. You never back down. You stay aggressive."
It was only a matter of time before the real Ray Allen showed up for this series, and when he did, the Cavaliers, who now trail the Celtics, 2-0, in the best-of-seven, were in trouble. Once Allen got one hoop, his velvet-smooth game returned to form, as he poured in 11 of his 16 points in the third quarter, when the Celtics built a 19-point lead.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he was determined to get Allen back on board.
"I made a concerted effort," said Rivers. "I told the coaches at halftime, 'We're going to him over and over again. We've got to get him going.' "
They did, but it all started with that first, long-overdue layup.
"I said to myself, 'So, that's what it feels like,' " said Allen. "Because it seemed like a while since the ball went in for me."
Actually, it had been a while. The last time Allen made a shot was when he drilled a 3-pointer with 8:49 left in the third quarter of Boston's 99-65 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7 of their first-round series last Sunday. He sat out the fourth quarter of that blowout.
His inaugural hoop of this series seemed to boost Allen's energy. On the next Boston possession, he took the ball to the basket and got fouled, converting two free throws. He followed that by feeding Kevin Garnett for a jumper off a steal by Rajon Rondo. And if there was any doubt that the Allen of old was back, it vanished when he came off a screen and smoothly drained a 20-foot jumper with 9:07 left in the third quarter.
Allen added one of his patented hanging jumpers while getting fouled by Wally Szczerbiak for a 3-point play in the third. Then, with 10:23 left in the final frame, he drilled a 3-pointer that gave Boston a 76-54 lead.
Before the game, Rivers expressed confidence that Allen and Paul Pierce, who shot a combined 2 for 18 for 4 points in Game 1, would rediscover their offensive touch. Pierce (19 points) proved him prescient in the first quarter, scoring 7 points. Allen, however, continued to struggle.
His first shot of the game was an airball, but the official scorer generously listed it as a bad pass and a turnover. He followed that up by missing a technical foul free throw with 6:09 left in the first quarter. Among his other misses before he scored were a 3-pointer and a layup.
"I had to get the ball in the basket somehow because I think the last shot I had, it went in and came back out," said Allen. "Me and the ball were in an argument at that point in time, and I made sure I won that argument."
Allen did indeed have the last word with Mr. Spalding. Like all great shooters, he knows the only way to win such a quarrel is to keep shooting.
"I've been shooting for so long you all know that when you miss, you just take the next shot," said Allen. "I don't let it get in my head. I don't let people talk about whether I'm in a slump or not. You just miss. You can miss four in a row, then you can make four in a row. That is my mentality, and I always continue to put that next shot up."
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.