This post was initially written as part of a Boston Celtics email chain with five random people I met through the interwebs. As such, please excuse the random reference to The Wire, which probably won’t make any sense.
We’ve each read (and in my case, written) thousands of words about Ray Allen since he joined the Miami Heat. But the major story line we have under-discussed is this: When the Boston Celtics inevitably send two or three defenders toward LeBron James or Dwyane Wade, Allen will often be spotting up at the 3-point arc, butt naked and as dangerous as ever. And as much as we hate him, or miss him, or feel whatever other emotions we now hold for him, he will be helping the Heat tonight, and we should have at least a modicum of fear for Mr. Allen.
We watched Allen play 358 regular season games with the Celtics, so we are well-versed in the type of damage he can cause. We know how he trails on the fast break and spots up for killer jump shots. We know his jump shot looks picture-perfect and can turn a 3-point lead into a 9-point lead in just two quick possessions. We know he’s no longer the off-the-dribble threat he once was, though he still fancies himself as a pick-and-roll creator. But we also know, even when he’s in the midst of bricking almost everything against the Philadelphia 76ers, he’s capable of making his next two and turning a playoff series in his team’s favor.
Allen’s on the Heat, turned around — like The Wire’s Kima Greggs once jokingly claimed to be — by an ugly-ass motherfucker. Or maybe he was the ugly-ass motherfucker in this scenario, forcing a divide on his old team and leaving for, um, redder pastures. We know some of the specifics but not all of them. Plenty of animosity exists. Despite Allen’s most recent claims that he will “always” be a Boston Celtic, he stopped being a Celtic last summer. Now he’s the enemy, now he’s the opponent, now KG will want to scalp him and feed him to his young children, now Allen is LeBron’s teammate and will become the beneficiary of playing alongside the world’s finest basketball player.
What was so interesting about Allen leaving for the Heat, of all teams, wasn’t just that he left for the enemy at half-price. His departure from the Celtics also, counter-intuitively, made each of the Eastern Conference’s top two teams better. The Heat should find Allen’s perimeter shooting especially helpful, since he will either space the floor for Miami’s creators or be left by his lonesome at the arc. The Celtics essentially replaced Allen with Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Leandro Barbosa, all of whom make Doc Rivers’ squad more dynamic, explosive and versatile than it was last season. By leaving for the Heat, Allen didn’t just add a wrinkle to what is perhaps the NBA’s best rivalry. He also lent himself to doubly improving the quality of basketball in this rivalry, which is set up to possibly become better even than last year, when we watched seven epic games between these two squads, when we thought the Celtics were headed to the NBA Finals but LeBron James ripped their hearts out in the final two games Allen played for Doc Rivers.
We might not be in for a perfectly-played basketball game tonight. This is opening night, after all, and neither team has found its true identity. We have 82 games for these teams to find their stride, to adapt to their new pieces, to formulate and begin enacting a cohesive plan to maximize all their talent.
But know this: The Eastern Conference is better because Allen no longer wanted to play for the Celtics. His departure enriched both the team he joined and the team he left in his wake.
Enjoy tonight, folks. The NBA, at long last, has returned.