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Pierce, Allen go against type

‘Scorer’ challenges ‘shooter’ tonight

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / February 19, 2011

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LOS ANGELES — It’s as much an insult as a compliment.

Paul Pierce, “professional scorer.’’

He knows what they mean when they say it. He can get to the basket. He’s “crafty.’’ He’s “deceptive.’’ Not the fastest player on the floor. Not the most athletic in the league. His shot isn’t the prettiest. But it works.

It’s the same with Ray Allen, “the greatest 3-point shooter of all time.’’

It’s an honor, really. But sometimes Allen tries to keep himself from cringing. “I try to be a great all-around player,’’ he’ll say. What he means is he can still dunk. That there aren’t many teams in the league willing to give him a lane to drive through. That there’s life for him inside the 3-point line. That for all the threes he hit to become the all-time leader in that category, he’s also made enough to help him become one of the 25 top scorers in league history.

But they’re pigeonholed. And they’d love to trade places. It’s why Pierce challenged Allen in tonight’s 3-point contest, because there’s no better way to be considered among the best shooters of all time than to compete against one.

“I want to be a great shooter, but I’m known for going to the basket,’’ Pierce said. “When you put both of those things together, it equals a great player. Both of us as competitors want to be known not just for one thing but as great players. And Ray doesn’t want to be known as just a great shooter, he wants to be known for his all-around great play.’’

Allen is the shooter, Pierce is the scorer. And even if it’s true to a degree, neither likes it. It sells them short.

“I do believe that we have strong points in our game and at the same time we’re capable of doing a lot of things on the floor,’’ Allen said. “But with the team we’re on, we don’t have to do all those things.

“There are occasional opportunities where you might see something out of me or you may see something different out of Paul, but consistently for us to win a championship, we’ve got to stick to the script. Along the way, the beautiful idea behind that question is that we consistently want to get better at what we’re doing and we want to be the best.’’

Pierce made it his mission last season to chase down Eddie House’s record for highest single-season 3-point percentage in Celtics history (44.4). He shot 44.8 percent before the All-Star break, won the 3-point contest, and even though he fell short (41.4 percent), the point was to prove that he deserves to be mentioned among the greatest shooters the league has ever seen.

But when he said as much after winning the 3-point contest in Dallas, there wasn’t an eye in the room that didn’t bug out. The greatest shooters? Larry Bird. Reggie Miller. Dale Ellis. Dell Curry. Allen. It’s hard for people to put Pierce in the conversation.

But shooting is more about the look. There’s an aesthetic quality to Allen’s shot that is undeniable, while there’s nothing natural about Pierce’s form.

“Let’s just be honest,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, “when he shoots it, it doesn’t look good. Ray can miss 10 in a row, and you still like the way it looks. Paul could make five in a row and you don’t like the way any of them look.’’

Pierce’s shot is labored and deliberate and easy to imitate, which is why Nate Robinson does such a spot-on impression of it, emphasizing the follow-through in which Pierce takes a orchestra conductor’s bow trying to force the ball through the rim. All the effort that goes into it makes you lose sight of its effectiveness.

“It breaks every shooting rule that there is,’’ Rivers said. “He has a hitch. He has a hitch on the free throw line. He twists his body. I’ve given up trying to figure out when that ball goes in for him. But it goes in.’’

That’s all anyone notices about Allen, his form.

“He jumps a lot on his shots and I don’t,’’ Pierce said. “I probably have a slower release than him. That’s what he’s best known for, more so than I am.’’

The 3-pointer is Allen’s signature shot, but he’s capable of other things on the court.

Allen won the 2001 3-point contest, but his rookie year he finished fourth in the slam dunk contest. Every blue moon, he’ll pump his sneakers and grab the rim, and when he does, those in attendance are shocked.

“It’s not insulting,’’ Allen said. “It’s just always that extra bit of motivation. You want to go out there and work on your legs a little bit more, do the things you need to do. People forget. Some people in this country don’t know who the vice president is. People forget quickly.’’

There’s mutual admiration between Pierce and Allen. When Allen looks at Pierce, he sees a deceptive scorer.

“You never expect him to be as quick as he is,’’ Allen said. “He always gets to the basket. He always has somewhat of a hesitation, so you don’t know when he’s going to shoot it.’’

When Pierce looks at Allen, he sees a proven marksman.

“Ray is the greatest shooter to me of all time,’’ Pierce said. “I don’t even know why it ever was a discussion with him and Reggie Miller.’’

But would they trade skill sets, even for a day? Is there a part of each other’s game that they’d make their own.

“No,’’ Pierce said. “Because I already have.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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