THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

His presence a welcome sight

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / April 5, 2012
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If it seemed a long time between 3-pointers for Ray Allen, it was. Allen hit a 3 two minutes into the Celtics’ 100-91 win at Milwaukee March 22, then sat out the next six games because of an ankle injury.

But when the Celtics needed Allen Wednesday night, he provided his 96th 3-pointer of the season with 39 seconds left in an 87-86 loss to San Antonio at TD Garden.

Questions have been raised lately about Allen’s role, as Avery Bradley provided a defensive complement for Rajon Rondo in the backcourt during the Celtics’ five-game winning streak.

But this game was a reminder of how important Allen’s presence at the 3-point line is to the Celtics in the half-court offense, especially in crunch time. The Celtics found a winning rhythm without Allen, though those games were played at a different pace than Wednesday’s contest. Against the Spurs, the Celtics received a sample of a playoff pace - especially in the second half, as the lane was clogged and the game became a shootout from the perimeter.

The Spurs treated Allen as if he were maintaining his career-best 3-point percentage, which he is.

The fact he was only 2 for 6 from the field indicates the Spurs subscribed to the “don’t leave Ray Allen alone’’ maxim.

“Rusty, not bad,’’ coach Doc Rivers said of Allen. “He didn’t get a lot of shots, which is fine by me. Especially at the beginning of the game, he didn’t get any shots. And our offense was rolling, so you don’t worry about that. He played a lot of minutes, he looked good moving around. So, yeah, I was happy.’’

Rivers considered keeping Bradley in the starting lineup and using Allen off the bench.

“I thought about it, but it’s not a big deal guys,’’ Rivers said before the game. “I know you want to make it one. I don’t think guys [Celtic players] care about it one way or another.’’

The Celtics expected Allen to take up where he left off before the injury.

“He did well,’’ captain Paul Pierce said. “It’s tough when you take five, six games off. You know, sometimes the timing’s off, sometimes a little bit of the conditioning. But he’s going to work his way back slowly. He’s a veteran and he knows what it takes. He hit a huge shot for us down the stretch and we’ve got to have him back for the stretch run. It’s a tough run coming up here, these home and road games, and we need a little bit of everybody.’’

The Celtics trailed, 87-83, following a Matt Bonner jumper with 46 seconds remaining. Then they went to Allen out of a timeout, and he converted from the corner opposite the Spurs’ bench.

“He’s a veteran,’’ Pierce said. “He understands. You know, he’s been in those situations time and time again. The great ones, they find ways, through sickness, through injury - when they’re out there on the court they find a way. Ray, he’s definitely a great one. What more can you say? You kind of come to expect it. Just like baking a chocolate cake, you know the first time it may not come out so good. But if you do it for the next 20 years hopefully it’ll be pretty damn good.’’

Allen has been eager to return, twice going through false starts - a shootaround in Minneapolis last week, and before the Celtics-Heat game Sunday. But after receiving a cortisone shot, Allen was able to practice at full speed Tuesday.

“I don’t know what 100 percent feels like,’’ Allen said before the game. “During the season, it’s really hard to say. That number is mythical. I don’t know anybody in this locker room that feels that. So, you just kind of manage it how you can.

“It’s interesting, I just know my body so well. The difference coming in today and even practice yesterday - the difference is night and day, being able to push and get lift.’’

Allen finally felt assured he had recovered Wednesday morning.

“Once I woke up and moved around,’’ Allen said. “That’s the first indication, when I get out of bed. When I get out of bed I wiggle my toes every morning, make sure they’re still there and nobody got me in the middle of the night.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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