The Boston Celtics training staff floated the idea of resting Ray Allen, but Allen naturally said,”Hell No” and the coach stuck by his player. It’s an admirable display of loyalty, but, unfortunately, playing Allen major minutes in Game 2 could put the Celtics in an 0-2 hole even Tarzan couldn’t climb out of.
For all the talk regarding Allen’s 3-point percentage in the playoffs (27%) and free throw shooting (60%), his defense is hurting Boston the most. The Celtics allowed Miami to record a 53.5 eFG percentage in Game 1, compared to their season average of 45-percent, which was second best in the NBA. And the Heat put up those numbers while missing 20 of their mostly-uncontested 25 three-pointers.
Boston surrendered 19 layups, many of which were hardly contested at all. Aside from fatigue, perhaps, the two biggest reasons for the atypical defense were 1) Allen’s porous man-to-man defense and 2) Rivers’ poor decision to match Kevin Garnett and Greg Stiemsma with Heat shooters such as Shane Battier and Mike Miller. The problem with the latter was two-fold; because Garnett/Stiemsma were guarding shooters, they were much farther out from the basket and unable to protect the rim as effectively. Both Boston bigs were also caught over-helping on penetration and leaving their men open, which forced the rest of the team into emergency rotations. But those problems won’t occur again in Game 2. Rivers said he will make an adjustment and stop putting Garnett (and, I assume, Stiemsma) on perimeter-oriented players again, so let’s focus on the role Allen played in Miami’s layup lines.
Even in the best of health, Allen has never been an above-average defender — though he does seem to do a good job on Kobe Bryant, for whatever reason. He tends to lose sight of the ball or his man far too often in the half court and has a tendency for laziness that shows itself most of all when he gets screened. Granted, Thibodeau and Rivers were able to hide Allen’s deficiencies within the team defensive concept, and Allen did improve for a few seasons. But due to age, fatigue, injuries, or whatever other reasons, Allen has reverted to his pre-Boston defense this season. It wasn’t talked about much before the injury amplified things, but it’s something I’ve noticed intermittently throughout the season.
Early during Game 1, Miami was keenly aware of Allen’s defensive limitations. The Heat’s second hoop was a Wade layup as a result of Allen jogging back in transition, while their third hoop came via a backdoor screen for Wade which Allen stuck to like super glue. It was obvious Miami sought to exploit Allen’s defense when they ran two consecutive pick-and-roll plays for Mike Miller, of all people. Naturally, Miller canned open jumpers on both plays as the result of Allen’s unwillingness or inability to fight through the screen. As the game wore on, Miami continued to attack Allen defensively with various screens, both on-ball and off. Ray simply didn’t seem to have the energy to withstand the physical play or the lateral ankle movements.
As I watched each Heat field goal attempt again on Synergy Sports, it became painfully clear to me that Allen does not belong in the starting lineup for Game 2.
As much as I love Allen and respect him as a professional and a competitor, the Celtics are at a grave disadvantage with him on the floor defensively. If I were Doc, I’d consider bringing Allen off the bench for the threat of his outside shooting only when LeBron James or Dwayne Wade are taking a rest. Allen has become too much of a liability on defense to protect against that most potent duo, especially when considering his historically poor shooting. Michael Pietrus has been shooting just as poorly, and not exactly playing stellar defense, yet he’d still be a major defensive upgrade from Allen. I’d also like to see Sasha Pavlovic and/or Marquis Daniels to get some of Allen’s playing time If Allen started to see a bigger basket, perhaps I’d see if I could get away with some extended playing time, but only if Miami wasn’t exploiting him the way they did in Game 1.
It’s an agonizing decision for Rivers, sure. I can’t imagine it’s easy to bench a sure-fire Hall of Famer and the NBA’ best shooter, but it’s a decision he may have to make for the good of the team.
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