Sharpshooter Allen an exceptional case
ORLANDO, Fla. — A 38-, 39-, or even 40-year-old shooting guard? Who ever heard of such a thing?
The NBA actuarial tables say Ray Allen should be finished now. A few point guards (Jason Kidd, 37; Steve Nash, 36) are still performing at a high level. But shooting guards go first. Always.
There is one exception. Ray Allen will turn 35 July 20. Is there the slightest indication that he won’t be a viable NBA player next year, and, who knows, for several more thereafter? Of the Celtics’ Big Three, Allen has been the most consistent achiever in the second half of the season, when, presumably, a codger such as himself should be slowing down.
But he continues to perform at a very high level and is, in fact, showcasing phases of his game some people have never seen. Who, for example, expected Allen to go to the basket nine times in the first half of Sunday’s 92-88 Game 1 triumph over the Orlando Magic?
He has always admired people in sports who achieve longevity.
“I loved the way Cal Ripken Jr. showed up for work every day all those years,’’ says Allen, who now has a new hero.
“Jamie Moyer pitching a shutout at age 47,’’ he says. “I love that.’’
He is well aware of his own sport’s history. He knows many people thought the Celtics were crazy to bring him in three years ago at age 32, when most shooting guards start hitting the front of the rim more often than not.
“I know I’m an anomaly,’’ he says.
What needs to be emphasized is the idea that Allen is one of the great players ever, and that’s player, not just “shooter.’’
He will always be defined as a great shooter. He’s proud of that, and has no intention of running away from the honor. But what is becoming increasingly evident is the breadth of his game.
“Ray Allen breaking you down off the dribble,’’ smiles ESPN/ABC commentator Mark Jackson, himself personally knowledgeable on the subject of aging guards. “I don’t think people are ready for that.’’
But that is exactly what 34-year-old Ray Allen did in the first half Sunday, when he attacked, attacked, and attacked some more, taking it into the teeth of the Dwight Howard-anchored Orlando defense to lead the Celtics in scoring with 12 points. This is not the Ray Allen of legend. It is Ray Allen the skilled pragmatist, recognizing a situation and doing what he feels has to be done.
Allen went back to Plan A in the second half, nailing a pair of threes. He finished with a 25-7-3 line, to go along with strong defense (Doc Rivers says he has played his finest defense of the season during these playoffs). It was a brilliant all-around game, a tutorial for any young guard, in fact.
It could easily have been 2008, 2006, 2004, or even 1998. Can anyone say Ray Allen looks any different out there?
“He is a professional on the floor at all times,’’ lauds Jackson. “People look at the Celtics this year and some of the problems they’ve had, on and off the floor, and they say, ‘How could they keep it together?’ It’s because they have a good line in the middle of it, and that means Ray Allen. He is the consummate pro. There are many coaches around the league who would kill to have Ray Allen.’’
Ray is beyond low maintenance. He is no maintenance.
“He is one less guy you have to coach,’’ Jackson points out, “and that has an effect on the other players, too.’’
It would be easy and convenient to label Allen a freak of nature, but that would be horribly unfair and would ignore the fact that he possesses an uncommon amount of personal discipline. You don’t get to be Ray Allen because the Hoop God has anointed you the exception to all the rules. You get to be Ray Allen if you are willing to live a life others would find both challenging and perhaps even boring.
Longevity was on Allen’s mind, and not just when he entered the league in 1996 after a standout career at the University of Connecticut. In order to become Ray Allen, you must have a rare balance of physical ability and mental attitude.
“You need both,’’ he says. “This started when I was 15, by never tasting alcohol and by learning how to get my rest. Now my body is paying me back. I still take care of it at a high level.’’
That body is ideally constructed to play the position. He is 6 feet 5 inches and 210 or so, and he has extraordinary calves, what you might call sprinter’s calves. Those powerful legs enable him to run around in a Havlicekian manner, both as he scurries about in the halfcourt, curling off high screens to launch what are sometimes breathtakingly beautiful textbook threes, or to run the floor, where he is proving to be equally dangerous spotting up for a three or finishing off expertly with either hand.
On top of everything else, he is a career 89 percent foul shooter in the regular season and a 90 percenter in the playoffs. That, too, speaks to discipline.
All of this makes it kind of interesting that there was so much talk about Allen being traded back at the All-Star break. He will be a free agent at the end of the season. Wouldn’t he be a nice final piece of the puzzle for someone next year?
“Whoever gets him,’’ says Jackson, “whether it’s the Celtics or anyone else, will get a steal. It doesn’t matter how old he is. He can still get it done.’’
But playing till he’s 40? Is that actually possible?
Clearly, Ray likes the idea.
“We’ll let the game dictate itself,’’ he says. “I’m always going to give myself the best chance. It’s who I am, what I want, and where I have to go to get it.’’
The rest of us just need to sit back and enjoy it. We’re looking at living NBA history.