NEW YORK — The last time Ray Allen played a game at Madison Square Garden, he left the arena with seven stitches and a bandage above his right eye.
“It was a bloodbath,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said at the time, referring in part to a Jared Jeffries elbow to the head that Allen took in the third quarter of that March 21 game . “I thought that was beautiful.’’
Game 3 of the Celtics-Knicks first-round playoff series tonight was a different kind of blood bath, and Allen’s performance was also beautiful, though the circumstances could not have been any more different. Instead of trading punches with the Knicks in a knock-down, drag-out fight, the Celtics inflicted a painful 113-96 loss on the Knicks to take a commanding series lead. Instead of taking punishment, Allen dished it out, overcoming the battle scars from that March game to hit 8 of 11 3-pointers in Game 3. So far in three games this series, Allen has gone a staggering 15 of 20 from beyond the 3-point arc.
“Our bigs set great screens,” Allen said after the game. “I was able to get open. Paul [Pierce] was able to get open … This building has always been intense. It was no different tonight.”
Allen combats intensity with preparation, arriving at the arena early to get his shooting in. Today was no different, with Allen wrapping up his pregame routine at 4:10 p.m. Because he was there almost three hours before game time, Allen was forced to tip-toe around the Knicks dance team as they practiced a routine that stretched between both 3-point lines. Three hours later, he tip-toed around screens by Jermaine O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, and Glen Davis to torture the Knicks.
Allen hit his first 3-pointer less than five minutes into the game for his only points of the first quarter. He wasted no time getting going in the second quarter, hitting his first three at the 8:56 mark before hitting two more in the period. Allen’s 10 shot attempts in the first half of last night’s game was more than he had in the first halves of the first two games of the series combined. He took just eight shots in all of Game 2.
Up by just eight points at halftime, Allen combined with Pierce to put the Knicks away early in the second half. Both combined to score 11 points in little more than three minutes as the Celtics lead grew to 13. Allen and Pierce combined to connect on 14-of-19 3-pointers overall in the game.
“It was a conscious effort to run our offense,” said Rivers. “Paul and Ray were the focus. It wasn’t one or the other, it was both.
“It’s as simple as movement and picks, and just making the right play. Picks are huge. Every team sets picks and gets guys open. It would make us smarter if we set picks on Ray and Paul. You just would assume that would make you a lot smarter.”
By now Celtics fans have smartened up to Allen’s value in the postseason. The short list of Allen’s notable playoff performances in a Celtics uniform is getting long. He scored 28 points during the second half of Game 2 of a 2009 series with the Bulls, then followed that up with a playoff career-high 51 points in Game 6. Allen hit nine 3-pointers in that game, tying himself, Rex Chapman, and Vince Carter for the most 3-pointers made in a playoff game. Allen tied an NBA Finals record with seven 3-pointers made in Game 6 of the 2008 Finals against the Lakers, then broke that record with eight threes in Game 2 of the 2010 Finals.
In other words, Allen knows how to put on a show, something Rivers was afraid of before the game.
“My main concern was that this was not entertainment,” said Rivers. “This was a competition. We came with that mentality. Because this is the one thing this place can do. You come here to put on a show and you get your tail kicked.”
Allen’s mentality didn’t necessitate putting on a show in Game 3, but he did it anyways. And unlike when the two teams last played here, it was the Allen and the Celtics doing the tail-kicking.