He Had Game
Off the opening tip in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the first play the Boston Celtics ran was specifically designed for Ray Allen. He came around the screen, Rajon Rondo passed him the ball, he squared up for a wide open shot, and much like he had done in the previous series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, he missed.
With about 4:31 left in the second quarter, Allen again found himself wide open. This time squared his shoulders perfectly, shot the ball with that laser quick release of his and the ball swished through the net. Unfortunately, the basket did not count due to a foul called away from the ball, but the Boston crowd still cheered sarcastically. Those two possessions epitomize the struggles Allen continued to have during the Celtics’ 88-79 victory against the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday.
There were times during Game 1, when Allen resembled a knockout boxer, who suddenly forgot how to throw that crucial punch or an arm-weary pitcher, unable to throw strikes. After a couple misses from the outside early in the game, Allen became a complacent player, rather than the aggressive one who is known for his deadly outside shot. He passed up open jumpers, he dribbled the ball into double teams and forced passes to his teammates. Allen did however play excellent defense, set hard picks and even threw perfect passes at times, but it was clear that every possession was a mental and physical challenge. Up until Game 7 of the Atlanta Hawks series, these struggles were nowhere to be found.
Through the first six games of the Celtics’ opening series against the Hawks, Allen was averaging 17 points per game and shooting 45% from the field, which just happened to be his numbers during regular season. However in Game 7, he shot 3-12, and only scored seven points. He followed that lackluster performance up, with an abysmal Game 1 against the Cleveland Cavaliers when he went scoreless for the first time since his rookie year. He did rebound to score 16 points the next game, but for the most part, Allen was a non-factor in Boston’s series victory against Cleveland.
So to what can these lackluster performances be attributed to? In the last practice prior to Game 1 against the Pistons, Allen himself attributed his struggles to his lack of rhythm. He partly blamed himself for that, which is why after practice he played against Sam Cassell and shot numerous jump shots. But Allen also blamed Rondo and to a lesser extent, the rest of his teammates for not “getting him easier looks.” At one point during the post-practice press conference he even suggested that Rondo talk to Cassell about getting him the ball in his sweet spot. During tonight’s game, Rondo and his teammates repeatedly got Allen wide open jumpers in his sweet spot, but he was still unable to convert.
On the Tony Kornheiser radio show on Tuesday morning, longtime NBA analyst and CNNSI.com columnist, David DuPree suggested that Allen’s struggles were simply due to fatigue. He mentioned that Allen’s legs could be tired for two reasons: One, his ankles were probably sore, as a side effect from the season ending surgery he had on them in the summer of 2007. Secondly, DuPree brought up the fact that Allen has not played this deeply into an NBA season since 2001, when he and the other two members of the then-Big Three (Cassell and Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson) advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. Allen was 25 then, and in the prime of his career. The 32-year-old Allen is not quite as spry, and the increasing number of games could be affecting his ability to get lift and accuracy on his shot. Still, Allen insists fatigue and lingering effects from injuries are not a factor, and he can play his way out of this.
There is a scene in Spike Lee’s, “He Got Game”, when a young Jesus Shuttlesworth (the older Jesus was played by Allen) was on the basketball court, and all the kids started yelling out, “Save us Jesus, save us!” If the Celtics are going to defeat the Pistons and advance to the NBA finals, they will eventually need Allen to reprise that savior role.
In order for that to happen, Allen will need his touch to return and save him.
Photo Credit: Icon Sports Media