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With Allen, the Celtics have an outside shot

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / April 22, 2010

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Ray Allen showed his value to the Celtics Wednesday night with the fear factor. The Celtics ran away from the Miami Heat in their 106-77 Game 2 victory at TD Garden, and the key to their surge was Allen’s resurgence as a 3-point weapon. Allen scored 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting, and he was 7 of 9 on 3-pointers. Although he is considered the third option of the Big Three, Allen is critical to the team’s success.

Boston is 26-8 this season when Allen scores 18 points or more and the Celtics’ offense is more effective, and as close to where it was in 2008, when Allen stretches the floor and is draining 3-pointers. Allen acknowledged having a rough first half of the season, dogged by trade rumors, then bounced back after the All-Star break.

There have been times this season when Allen hasn’t been part of the offense. His teammates haven’t gotten him the ball and he hasn’t always gotten open. But he has seemingly found the aggressiveness and the 3-point stroke he possessed two years ago.

The Celtics have been erratic from the 3-point stripe this season. President Danny Ainge signed Rasheed Wallace to stretch the floor, but he finished the regular season shooting 28 percent on 3-pointers. Eddie House was traded to New York because he wasn’t hitting outside shots. Brian Scalabrine played himself out of the rotation and the active roster because he lost his perimeter scoring punch.

Allen will be a free agent at the end of the season and wants to return to the Celtics. A strong playoff run could not only increase his value in Boston, but also in the free agent market. Players who frighten opponents with their range are rare in the NBA. Everybody shoots 3-pointers and many hit an occasional one, but that doesn’t make them a 3-point shooter.

It’s when a player can drain 3-pointers in a hurry, with burly centers charging them like Michael Strahan closing on a quarterback, that strikes fear. That frightened look of an oppoenent when Allen gathered the ball and has a split-second to release. When Allen and his teammates are stretching the floor and making those open shots, the Celtics are an elite team.

It is the reason Glen “Big Ticket Uno Stub’’ Davis (or whatever he is referring to himself in Kevin Garnett’s absence) had room in the paint to maneuver for layups. Allen’s presence and effectiveness changed the game and is a good sign for the Celtics in their quest to advance to the second round.

“When Ray keeps answering with threes, that’s what he’s here for,’’ center Kendrick Perkins said. “I know he didn’t have a big first half, but I knew he was going to have a big second half. I watched him after [Game 1]. He came in and got his shots up three times a day, so I knew he was going to have a big game in Game 2.’’

When Allen drops multiple 3-pointers and is a bona-fide threat, the Celtics don’t need Paul Pierce to save them in the fourth quarter or Garnett to become a scorer. Although the Big Three still have the ability to change games, the Celtics can’t depend on Pierce, Garnett, or Allen to dominate games as often as they did two years ago.

The wealth needs to be spread. And when Davis scored 23 points, the Celtics can afford for Pierce to score a mere 13 points on eight shots. Allen’s effectiveness allows Rajon Rondo to be more distributor (12 assists)and less scorer (8 points)as he was Tuesday night.

That’s why coach Doc Rivers said he wanted his players to shoot open 3-pointers, regardless of how they have been shooting. Stretching the floor is critical to a team’s success, especially when they don’t have a dominant offensive center. It was no coincidence that on the night Allen was hot, Davis flourished and Perkins added 13 points and found open space in the paint.

Garnett’s absence affected the Celtics, but the emergence of Allen greatly helped. The Celtics are far more dangerous when they aren’t depending on Pierce to score or forcing the ball in the paint. The fear that strikes opponents when Allen sets his feet at the 3-point line is still very visible, which lets him and his critics know he remains a respected shooter.

When shooters age, they begin to lose their legs and consistency. Because Allen, 34, has taken immaculate care of himself, his timeline should extend longer than most players and the Celtics are benefiting from his diligence.

Tuesday was a perfect example of Allen at his best. And the Celtics are a better team when he his better utilized. The question now is whether his contributions will remain a priority for the rest of the playoffs. The numbers show they should.

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