Fool LeBron James once and they’ll say you got lucky. Fool him three times?
In the second-half of Sunday’s Game 4 win for the Celtics, Tony Allen played a role in three fast breaks that ended in baskets for the home team rather than the spectacular come-from-behind blocks that James has made so ubiquitous on NBA highlights. The lay-up drill injected energy into the home crowd and was representative of a Celtics approach that could not have been further removed from the team’s approach in Game 3.
Allen teamed up with Rajon Rondo on all three plays, the first coming at the 1:07 mark of the third quarter when Rondo avoided a leaping James and found Allen with a spectacular behind-the-back pass. The play broke a 70-all tie and ignited the home crowd.
“Tony and I were on the break together a few times,” said Rondo. “That’s how we got the lead.”
On the second play, Allen returned the favor to Rondo, correctly anticipating another James jump before finding the Celtics point guard for a lay-up of his own.
“Be nice to the basketball god, he’ll reward you,” Allen said of the play with 11:38 remaining in the fourth quarter. “Rajon was caught up in one of those situations with a similar break, and I kicked it back to him. It was a great team play.”
With 8:40 remaining in the fourth quarter Allen found himself on the break once again, but this time, James was expecting Allen to pass it behind him. With James stepping back to clog the passing lane, Allen smartly kept the ball and rolled it off the glass for two.
“Once I get a few chip-in baskets it gives me a little energy,” said Allen.”But for the most part I’m a defender first on that court, and I need to do that in order to stay out there.”
Allen’s energy and defense afforded him 26 minutes on the court in Game 4, and the Celtics guard took advantage of the time, putting up 15 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal. Allen got to the free-throw line six times. And his defense on James contributed to holding the Cavaliers superstar to 22 points.
“Tony Allen may have been the biggest reason we won after Rondo,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “Tony was great.”
Greatness isn’t something Allen has been used to. Not this season. In good health for most of the season (Allen did miss a few games early in the season following offseason ankle surgery), Allen fell in and out of the Celtics rotation. In March Allen’s playing time dipped below 10 minutes per game. He was essentially an afterthought on a veteran team that could have seemingly used an infusion of hustle.
“Honestly, I’m not looking back,” Allen said of his up-and-down season. “Everything that happened happened for a reason. It was for the team. Whether it was good or bad, I rolled with it.”
Allen’s call in Game 4 was based out of necessity. Paul Pierce, who came into Sunday’s game shooting 31 percent against the Cavaliers, had 9 points in a foul-plagued 31 minutes yesterday.
Out went Pierce, in went Allen.
With Pierce out of the game and Rondo pushing the tempo, the time was right for Allen’s cameo. Allen hit 6 of 7 shots as Rondo’s running mate. When he wasn’t running he was attacking the basket in the halfcourt and getting to the line.
“Our saying with Tony is, ‘Don’t let them off the hook,'” said Rivers. “Meaning don’t bail them out with a jump shot. Take it to the basket. That’s who you are, and there’s nothing wrong with being that. I think a lot of players take that personally, where you’re telling them not to shoot. We are in some ways, but we’re telling you to get your shot, and if your shot is attacking the basket, then do it. And I think Tony is doing a great job of that.”
On defense Allen hounded James, spelling Pierce and Ray Allen, both of whom got into foul trouble trying to slow down the Cavaliers forward. Allen credited the defensive schemes of Tom Thibodeau as the reason the Celtics were able to contain James.
“We’re basically clogging the lane, not giving [James] angles,” said Allen. “When he puts his head down, have the next guy step up.”
And when he tracks you down on the fast break, pass it behind you.