If Ray Allen had been on the golf course yesterday, his drive on the first tee would have landed in the 15th fairway. He wasn’t just missing shots, he was shanking them. The world’s most prolific three-point shooter couldn’t find the net if he MapQuested directions.
He entered the fourth quarter having hit just one of nine field goal attempts. His last two attempts in the third quarter were open looks, but both barely drew iron. He even passed up one naked shot, prompting his coaches and teammates to metaphorically form a line to remind him to keep shooting, regardless of the throbbing pain in his ankle.
If Allen can’t make shots, Doc Rivers must seriously contemplate sitting him. He’s by now Boston’s worst perimeter defender and was particularly outmatched in the series by Philadelphia’s athleticism. But the reason why Rivers kept calling Allen’s number (besides a severe lack of other options) is that at some point, the shots are going to connect.
“Ray is the ultimate gun slinger,” Rivers described. The best shooters always think the next one’s going down. “I mean, really. That’s what makes players great.”
So it was that with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter of a three-point game, Allen remained in the lineup with his trigger finger ready to fire. He dribbled around two ball screens which his defender Thad Young politely declined to fight through. When Evan Turner failed to provide sufficient help for the far-too-lazy-considering-he-was-defending-arguably-the-greatest-shooter-in-NBA-history Young, Allen stepped into a three and finally found his mark.
His first long-distance make of the night gave Boston a 60-54 lead with 9:51 left.
“To have the trust in Ray, after the way he was shooting the ball, to get it to him for him to make it says a lot about Ray,” the coach explained. “And I think it says a lot about our team, that we trust you for 48 minutes.”
Added Allen, “I had some great looks tonight, probably some of the best I’ve seen so far in the postseason. You think about all the times and wish I had them back. But they go in when it counts. It’s almost like I need the fourth-quarter fanatics. I love to get to that point when you focus in a little more, but again, they go in when it counts.”
The Celtics pushed the lead to seven, but those pesky Sixers didn’t feel like fading without a fight. They cut the deficit to 64-61 with 6:35 left on an Elton Brand jumper.
As Rivers said, “The Sixers are a pain in the ass. They really are. They are a tough basketball team. I don’t think people gave them their respect all year. I think people forgot after 25 games that they may have been the best team in the league.”
But Brandon Bass drained two free throws (he doesn’t seem to miss them any more) and Allen curled around a screen on Boston’s next possession.
The Sixers gave Allen plenty of space on his second consecutive hit, which put the Celtics ahead 69-61 with 5:50 left, but Doug Collins said it had nothing to do with strategy.
“We never want to give Ray Allen a clean look at a three,” he said. “The thing about great shooters is that they are going to keep shooting.”
Yes, great shooters keep shooting, even if they are hobbled by bone spurs and 16 seasons of mileage. Sometimes that leads to more misses, and other times it results in two well-timed triples to help push the Celtics into the Eastern Conference Finals.