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Bob Ryan

Allen acting like himself

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / May 29, 2008

It was 100-99, Celtics. 1:04 remaining. Once a 17-point lead, even a 15-point lead way back in the beginning of this very period. Out of bounds play underneath their own basket. Celtics need a basket. The Celtics seriously need a basket.

Who you gonna call?

How about Ray Allen?

Yes, Ray. Why not? Forget all that business about being missing in action for near the entire playoffs. Ray had already nailed five threes. Ray's stroke was back.

So James Posey inbounded to Ray Allen, and Ray Allen did what Ray Allen has been doing for his entire life. He calmly drilled a deep corner two and a half (his foot was on the line). Now it was 102-99, Boston, and the Celtics would live off this for the remainder of the game, a 106-102 win.

Is Ray Allen's long personal nightmare now officially over? Is the All-Star/Olympian/Professional Jump Shooter back? Did this 9-for-15, 5-for-6 on threes, 29-point performance mean Ray Allen will be back to being Ray Allen for the remainder of the playoffs, however long they last?

"I just know he had one in him," said coach Doc Rivers. "He's a great player. He hasn't stopped being [one]. He just hadn't played well in a while."

Allen made a big early contribution with a transition 3-pointer that broke a 5-5 tie. To him the circumstance told the story.

"My first two threes in the first half were because we got the rebound and pushed it up," he explained. "When we run, I score."

That's the idea, but even getting Allen out into the open floor hasn't guaranteed success during the playoffs. He just hasn't been himself. People are still talking about a transition airball he threw a few games back. C'mon, when has anyone ever seen Allen shoot an airball?

Now it is true he doesn't get all the shots he used to get. Coming to Boston and joining forces with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett meant he was no longer the automatic No. 1 option he'd been for his entire professional career in Milwaukee and Seattle. He had to make a significant mental adjustment.

"Clearly, throughout the season I learned that being on this team meant I didn't always have to score," he said. "I had to learn to be more efficient in my scoring."

He made that adjustment to everyone's satisfaction. Take, for example, the month of February. In that month he scored 20 points a game. He shot 49 percent from the field, 40 percent on threes. That's Ray Allen.

He was Ray Allen often enough so that both Garnett and Pierce, when asked in a joint interview which of the (so-called) Big Three should take the last shot in a close game, said, "Ray Allen."

But that Ray Allen has been on hiatus for much of the playoffs. In his place has been a guy clanking up threes and just looking, well, hesitant. Whoever that No. 20 was, when the game started, the guy was most definitely not the real Ray Allen.

Last night's Allen was the one Detroit coach Flip Saunders has been used to seeing. "He hit some big shots," Saunders said. "He got things going early, got the confidence going . . . I think the previous time we played he had a little bit more hesitation in shooting. He was not hesitating tonight. I thought their bigs set some pretty good screens to get him open, and he got his confidence going."

"You know," said Pierce, "Ray is going to continue to be Ray, regardless of how he shoots. Just his presence on the floor is a big help. Tonight, he just happened to have it really, really going. He was real aggressive pretty much throughout the game."

"Both of us are happy for him because he was in a slump, and we kept motivating him," added Garnett, a huge factor himself with 33 points. "We were talking to him, and letting him know from a 'big' standpoint, trying to get him open and trying to get him some open looks and some easier looks."

Allen looked most like his old self in the third quarter, when he hit three 3-pointers and had one particularly aggressive slash to the hoop from the right baseline. He was a plain ol' scoring machine.

But he did not seem to be in the mood to accept many compliments for his scoring. "My feeling is no different than if I had scored 10 points and we won," he maintained. "It's just the winning, regardless of what I've done."

That's fine, and you know he means it, but the fact is the team had been working around him for far too long offensively. He was a major component for 82 games that had been essentially lost in the most important phase of the season. Pierce can hit threes, but no Celtic commands the respect of the opponents from deep range as much as Allen. The Celtics had to be wondering if they were ever going to see the Allen of legend again.

"When he's playing like that, we're a tough team," Garnett noted. "I thought the ball moved from strong side to weak side tonight, and he was a big part of that."

The Allen saga bottomed out Monday night, when he even missed a pair of free throws late in the game. Allen misses every once in a while, but he never misses two at once.

But after seeing what he'd been up to all night long, no one in the Celtics' camp was worried when he stepped to the line for two free throws with 6.3 seconds left last night, the Celtics in possession of a 102-101 lead. The Celtics' strategy was to keep fouling Detroit before anyone could even attempt a three, but the flip side, of course, is to make sure your own guy sinks his free throws when called upon.

Allen swished his two. No problem. They were points Nos. 28 and 29 in a very big evening for a very important player.

"He kept working on his game, he kept believing every day, and that's probably why he's been so great throughout his career," said Rivers. "If that had been me, I'd have been a basket case as a player. But that's the difference between the good ones and the great ones."

Ray Allen is a great one. Still.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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