June 17, 2010
On Wednesday both John Hollinger and Sam Amick mentioned, a day earlier than I hoped they would, Tony Allen's(notes) proficiency in stopping Kobe Bryant(notes) in this series. Bryant has made fewer than a quarter of his shots with Tony in his face during the finals, though this particular Allen has only guarded a quarter of Bryant's shots.
Could that all change in an instant? Sure. This is a Game 7, Kobe Bryant is Kobe Bryant, and history-defying small sample sizes will be all the rage on Thursday night. But it's not a stretch to suggest that, if Bryant works expertly against Allen offensively in this series-decider, something will have gone against the grain.
Because Tony Allen is a fantastic defender. He can't walk to Southside Shrimp House without an armed escort, and he can't make any move offensively (save for handing, not passing, the ball off to a teammate) without Celtics fans giving him a rightful groan. But he sure can defend.
And it's certainly no slight on Kobe. It makes sense, even. Allen's much younger, Kobe's been playing deep into the playoffs for every season save three since 1997, and Bryant also tips the scales with his offseason work ethic (makes him better, but saps the legs eventually) and recent international play. Meanwhile, Allen just gets to bide his time on the Boston bench and wait for a wing player without blinding quickness to come down the pike.
Bryant doesn't have blinding quickness anymore. He uses smarts, touch and savvy. The result of all those years in the gym. And sometimes there's no individual antidote for a sound defender in your face, outside of smart team play. Had Michael Jordan met a team with Doug Christie on it, don't laugh, during Chicago's second three-peat? Jordan would have had a problem. He wouldn't have shot well, and his scoring average would have gone down.
The team-based antidote, however, would have to be, shockingly, team play. Allen overplays, and someone else is open, ready to work the Laker offense. Derek Fisher(notes) with one of those mini-penetrations. Lamar Odom(notes), if the blood sugar is right. Pau Gasol(notes), that 7-footer with skills that you need, Kobe. That you need.
And Allen? In some permutation, he has to play. And he has to find a way to not destroy all that fine work he'll do on Kobe (if history is any indication) on the other end.
As has been his custom, through the years, Allen was among the worst players during the regular season at turning the ball over. His turnover rate, a measure of how many times he coughed it up based on how many total possessions (a score, assist, free throw) he used up, was top-10 bad, and tied for the worst (with Earl Watson(notes), if you can believe it) among guards. That's where he's been for years. Up there with the Dalemberts and Currys, somehow, while working in the backcourt.
Allen's play in this series hasn't been too terrible, turnover-wise, but just out of habit I can't help but whinge a bit every time he declines to give up the ball in transition, even if he doesn't bounce the rock off his thigh on his drive to the hoop. It's a habit, even though I've no rooting interest. But all those successful runs to the rim have come with a miserable rim-rate: 33 percent shooting in the finals.
If he's going to play extra minutes — hell, if he's going to play his typical 16.3 minutes per finals game — this cannot sustain. I understand that Tony has had good looks for layups, and I've heard about whatever-the-hell some doppelganger of his did in the NCAA tournament six years ago. But he has to treat himself as a mini-Kendrick Perkins(notes). Grab the ball with two hands, come to a jump stop, stick out his elbows and wait for another Celtic to take the ball from him. On a handoff, mind you. No point in asking Allen to make the pass.
Is this bordering on ridicule? Sadly, yes. The guy is just an offensive zero, but if he can play extra minutes and continue to force a competitive Kobe into a poor shooting night in Game 7, he can be a defensive ... immortal. Thought I was going to rhyme, there, didn't you?
And this wouldn't be on Kobe, unless he refuses to give up the ball despite several unsuccessful trips down the court. Sometimes there's just a super-athletic counterpart who has nothing to do but exceed in one role at your expense, even while you have to wear several hats.
The killer is minutes. Will Doc Rivers (like Allen, a Chicagoan) go against type, shake up that lineup (I don't see many easy small-ball answers, outside of losing Ray Allen(notes) or Paul Pierce(notes) for long stretches), possibly harm his already shaky offense and depend on a guy who can't be trusted for half the game? It's a major decision to make, especially when you have just 48 minutes to define your season. Just 48 minutes to win or lose the championship, and you want to play Tony Allen for half that run?
You might have to. Because he's excelled at one thing in this series, and that one thing has been stopping the other team's best player. Warts and all (where have we heard that before?), this could decide Game 7.
Which decides the 2009-10 NBA season. Your move, Cook County.