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After disaster, there is a Ray of hope

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / June 9, 2010

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The utter cruelty for Ray Allen is that despite the likely 500,000 3-pointers he has attempted as a skinny South Carolina teenager, chiseled All-American at Connecticut, franchise cornerstone in Milwaukee, All-Star in Seattle, and now 20,000-point scorer for the Celtics, he can have nights like this.

A brilliant performance Sunday in Game 2 meant nothing 48 hours later. Allen apparently used up all his credit with fate as he produced perhaps the worst night of his career on the NBA’s biggest stage.

After setting an NBA record with eight 3-pointers in a Finals game, Allen missed all 13 of his shots in an ironic twist that would make Alfred Hitchcock shake his head in amazement.

Allen finished with 2 points in 42 minutes, missing all eight of his 3-point attempts, including one that would have drawn the Celtics within a point. His terrible night was a microcosm of the Celtics’ offensive struggles in a 91-84 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 at TD Garden and was potentially the biggest high-to-low transition in sports history.

Only two men — Chick Reiser and Dennis Johnson (as a Sonic) — had worse nights in the NBA Finals. They each were 0-for-14, but neither occurred after breaking the league record for 3-point proficiency.

If Allen managed to will in one or two of those shots, the Celtics could have stolen a game they really never had control of. But he didn’t, and those same pundits who were catapulting Allen to premium free agent status this summer are now wondering how such a skilled shooter could take such a dramatic tumble.

“I thought they did a good job of defending me,’’ Allen said. “Two of those three went in and out. That’s why you always have to be humble. You have to make sure you make good decisions. You have to continue to work on things you need to do to be good.’’

And credit a player who was heavily criticized for his lack of production in Game 2 — Derek Fisher — for not only finishing off the Celtics in the fourth quarter but using suffocating defense against Allen throughout the game. In Games 1 and 3, Allen was a combined 0 for 10 from the 3-point line, and in Game 2 he was 8 for 11.

Such is life for a 3-point shooter. Any long-range marksman will acknowledge that putrid nights are part of the equation — they build character. Shooters don’t have a conscience. They can’t. They always have to feel like the next one is going in, that’s why Allen continued to shoot.

And the sellout crowd tried willing the ball into the hoop, but each of Allen’s 13 shots missed in different ways. Yet, Allen was pressing and uncomfortable. As much as he would never admit it, the struggles hindered his confidence.

During Game 2, the ball left his hand in symphonic form, you could harmonize to the video. Last night, it was like finger nails against a chalkboard, no rhythm, no flow, and no success.

“Preparation is the biggest key, I never hang my head,’’ he said. “Tomorrow’s always another opportunity to get right back on track. I take my hat off to [the Lakers], they took away a lot of the easy or open looks I had from last game.’’

Allen bravely faced the media and calmly answered every question. He had been through games similar to this. He has been the goat on many occasions. Shooters have to take chances. They can’t harbor any fear of the big shot. They have to face those demons and overcome them.

It seems like by facing the scrum of media, Allen took the first step in that process. He could have ducked out and scuttled home, tail between his legs. But that’s not his style. If there is a tough shot to be attempted tomorrow, he will be the first to volunteer.

“Honestly, I thought all of his shots looked flat tonight,’’ coach Doc Rivers said. “I didn’t think he had any legs. Of the 13, I think eight of them were great looks, and all of them were short. It happens to the best of us.’’

Kevin Garnett proved last night that resurrections are indeed possible. He dominated his matchup with Pau Gasol for the first time in the series. Allen won’t overreact to this malady. He won’t wear out his wrist popping jumpers during practice to regain his swagger.

It’s already there. He will watch as his critics overreact and prepare himself for Game 4, which becomes the biggest of the season and perhaps the biggest for Allen as a Celtic. Because after this stumble, there will be those wondering whether he can rise again.

Tomorrow will offer another opportunity for Allen to rise with fresh legs and restore his reputation. And he is looking forward to the next 3-point attempt.

“For me, I always think every one is going in,’’ he said. “I’ve been doing this a long time. So you prepare your body, get your rest, and be ready for the game. Preparation is the biggest key so you just get back at it the same way tomorrow.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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