The Celtics advanced to the Eastern Conference finals and took a 1-0 lead over the Detroit Pistons without much scoring from Allen, an eight-time All-Star closing in on 20,000 career points. In Boston’s 88-79 victory on Tuesday night, Allen had just nine points—none of them on outside shots.
“I’ve scored a lot in my career,” Allen said after staying late, as usual, to practice his jumpers at the Celtics’ practice facility in Waltham on Wednesday. “But it’s good to be in this position, where I’m not going to let it” affect the rest of the game.
The Celtics acquired Allen on draft day last summer to start the offseason overhaul that led to the most dramatic turnaround in NBA history. With Allen and mainstay Paul Pierce in the fold, Kevin Garnett agreed to the unprecedented 7-for-1 trade that completed their conversion from a 24-58 record in 2006-07 to an NBA-best 66-16 this year.
The three All-Stars invited comparisons to the original Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, who won the last of Boston’s league-record 16 titles in the 1980s. But as the playoffs heat up this time, Pierce and Garnett are carrying the scoring load with little help from Allen.
From the last game of the first-round series against Atlanta to the first game against Detroit, Allen is averaging nine points on 31 percent shooting. After scoring in single-digits only six times during the regular season, has done it five times in 15 playoff games, including an 0-for-4 in Game 1 against Cleveland—his first shutout since he was a rookie in 1997.
“Ray’s a part of the Boston Celtics, and the Boston Celtics are winning,” Garnett said, dismissing the idea that Allen needed emotional support. “I’m sure it’s not his first shooting slump, and it’s definitely not his last.
“So I don’t have any sympathy for Ray Allen. I think he’s playing great basketball.”
The Celtics wasted no time trying to get Allen involved in Game 1, running a play for him on the very first possession; he missed. Allen missed another jumper but the next time down kicked it out to Pierce for an assist and then drove to the basket for a layup.
Before the quarter was over, he would add an emphatic dunk that left him swinging from the rim to avoid the players below him. But he also fired up an air ball on a 3-point attempt and hasn’t made one of those in three games.
“I’m not worried about it. I’m really not,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “We’re winning games, and Ray’s making plays.”
In fact, none of the Celtics would express a concern about Allen’s slump— “if you want to call it that,” Garnett said.
And none of the Pistons would consider the prospect of leaving Allen open and challenging him to beat them.
“Ray is a good shooter and he’s going to shoot the ball, no matter what,” Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. “I don’t treat him what he’s done over the week; I treat him what he’s done over his career.”
Detroit guard Richard Hamilton wouldn’t even wait for the end of the question before shaking his head, emphatically, “No.”
“You can never think that he’s going to keep missing,” he said before Detroit practiced at Emerson College’s downtown gym on Wednesday. “If you start leaving him open, he can get hot.”
The Pistons have their own problems.
Chauncey Billups returned Tuesday night after missing two games and most of a third in the conference semifinals against Orlando with a strained right hamstring. But the Detroit point guard, the MVP of the 2004 NBA finals, scored nine points with just two assists and two turnovers.
“I needed to play that game,” he said. “I don’t feel good about the outcome of it, but I feel good having been out there, having seen what it was going to be like in my first game, and I look to make improvements in the second game.”
“It’s difficult getting back out there. It’s not like I’m just getting out there in a regular season game. There’s a lot at stake.”