Let me just start this piece off with a little note about myself: I love players who sacrifice themselves for the sake of the team. I can always appreciate a player who does less than he’s capable of in order to help his team. I know Michael Jordan never won a championship until he deferred at least slightly to his teammates. I know Kobe Bryant scored 35.4 points per game one year, but has never won a title scoring more than 30. James Posey is one of my favorite players, and I realize that Allen Iverson has seen his legacy decline mostly because he hasn’t been able to adapt his game to a more team-oriented style. Believe me, I am a big fan of just about any player who puts the team before himself.
But there are times when the best thing for a team is for a player to be a little selfish, to shoulder a load to help his less capable teammates. There are times when a player needs to step his game up, if for no other reason than to help his team win basketball games.
For two years and change in a Celtics uniform, Ray Allen has been more than willing to blend into the background. More than any other Celtic, Allen has sacrificed aspects of his game to better fit his role in Boston. He was always used to being the go-to-guy, but with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on his team, it was no longer necessary. Allen became a three-point specialist, a dagger thrower from outside who gave up some of the qualities that made him such a feared scorer before he came to Boston.
Back then, Allen was a killer. He attacked on every play and, averaging more than 26 points in his final season with Seattle, was one of the most feared assassins in the league. People often think of Allen as strictly a shooter, but he was far more than that. He was great at coming off screen-and-rolls, and underrated going to the hoop. He was as smooth shooting midrange jumpers off the dribble as he was shooting spot-up threes, and he possessed swooping finger rolls with both hands. When you think of Ray Allen, you think of the pretty follow-through and picture-perfect release, but he was far more than that.
In Boston, though, Ray-Ray has been content to be one of the disciples rather than Jesus Shuttlesworth. For two years, I’ve admired that about him; he didn’t care about the glory one bit… all he wanted was that championship ring on his finger at the end of the season.
But now, with Kevin Garnett joining Paul Pierce, Marquis Daniels and Glen Davis on the injured list, it isn’t the time for Ray to be bashful. It’s time he steps up, takes the reigns of the team, and provides the roster with a lift by playing inspired basketball. As the only member of the Big Three standing, it’s in Ray’s hands to make sure the team operates smoothly in the stead of all the injured rotation players.
In the first three games without Pierce, Ray had 18 points and 6 rebounds (against Orlando), a paltry 13 points and 5 assists (Clippers) and 24 points and 5 boards (Golden St.). The next game, without both Pierce and Garnett this time, Ray put up only 15 points and 4 boards.
It goes far beyond statistics though. Right now, the Celtics need Ray to be their leader; they need him to carry them on his lean back and bring them to victories, even without Pierce and Garnett. Boston simply cannot continue to rely on Rajon Rondo to do almost everything for them.
It’s not that Ray can’t lead the way. With KG down during the Celtics playoff series againt the Bulls last spring, Ray had some huge games and hit big shots almost whenever Boston needed him. It was the first time Ray had really come out of his shell as a Celtic, the first time he put the team on his shoulders like he used to do far more frequently in Seattle and Milwaukee. During that series, Rondo was the C’s best all-around player, but it was mostly Ray they leaned on in the clutch; he hit more clutch shots in that one series than Chris Webber hit in his whole career. (Sorry, Chris. Had to do it to you. At least in college, you had the presence of mind to call a timeout to let your team gather its thoughts. Zing.)
Back to Ray Allen, I know he’s first and foremost a team basketball player; I love that about him. But for now, what his team needs is for him to get a little selfish.
They need him to be Jesus, rather than merely a willing disciple.