BOSTON – Down the corridor moved Ray Allen late Wednesday, talking about the calm, the peace, the balance, that comes with his regular routine of shooting the ball on game night. It never changes. Hot streaks. Slumps. Whatever. When there are three hours until tip, he can be found alone with his thoughts and a rebounder.
When the rest of his teammates are still driving downtown, Allen is cutting across the floor, the sweetest of strokes lifting shots, delivering the parquet the night’s first droplets of sweat.
“What I want,” Allen said, “is to feel the shots that I’m going to make, see the angles, and the spots, and the contact that is going to come for me.” Now, Allen wears a suit and tie and slides his hip into you, as though you’re one of those imagery defenders that come for him.
“Some guys, they just go out there, take some shots, just standing there, and that’s preparing them for the game.…”
Whatever has happened in these playoffs, whatever shots stopped dropping, whatever doubts descended, Allen stayed the course. His hours of shooting, his preparation, it never waves in good times and bad. This is his blanket, his ticket out of turbulence. Hundreds of shots every day, and finally, there was a three-pointer in Game 5, and another, and his coach, Doc Rivers, thought to himself, “He’s going to be good tonight.”
Mostly, Ray Allen was back for the Boston Celtics.
There wasn’t a moment to waste.
He saved the season.
From all over the floor, from his familiar Garden spots, Allen was on his way to 29 points when everything started to crumble around him, around the Celtics. The 17-point lead had dissipated, down to one, and with 1:23 left, the Detroit Pistons were threatening to get the ball back, get the lead and get out of the Garden with the carnage of a crushing Celtics collapse. With the shot clock winding down, with Rip Hamilton closing fast, with his foot on the three-point line, with the Garden gasping, Allen let loose one of those rainbow jumpers that made him an All-Star, an Olympian, an All-American.
He let loose one of the jumpers that the Celtics, along with Kevin Garnett, believed could deliver them to the NBA Finals. One game away now for Boston in the Eastern Conference finals, a 106-102 survival test that pushes the Pistons to brink for Game 6 on Friday. Boston leads the series 3-2, and as Kevin Garnett, with 31 points insists, “If he plays like that, it’s tough to beat us.”
So much of the Celtics struggles in these playoffs have centered on Allen’s shooting struggles. The thing is, he wasn’t just struggling to make shots, he was struggling to get shots. He had missed 42 of his past 51 three-pointers until hitting five of six on Wednesday, until that foot on the line made it 103-101.
“Biggest shot of his career,” Rajon Rondo said.
Before leaving the locker room, Allen was thinking back to the two bang-bang three-pointers in the first quarter that led him out of the slump, and told Rondo that he was able to get those shots because Boston beat Detroit on the boards, passed the ball out and started the fast break. For so long, it’s been tough to find the easy ones. Now, the Celtics were getting the ball to Allen on the move and letting him make shots in transition.
Allen heard the gravely voice of the man responsible for recruiting him to the University of Connecticut, Howie Dickenman. Most of the old Huskies can take or leave Jim Calhoun, but they all love Dickenman. On his way to the Garden on Wednesday, Allen called Dickenman, now the coach at Central Connecticut State, to make sure the coach had the tickets he needed for Game 5.
“Ray,” Dickenman growled. “I was just telling my assistants: You’re going to have 27 points tonight.”
The Celtics will need it again. They were fortunate to survive Game 5, and unless they get something special out of the Big Three, they’ll be right back at the Garden for Game 7 on Sunday.
The Celtics were desperate for Allen to arrive into these playoffs. “He never changed his routine,” Rivers said. “He kept working on his game, he kept believing every day. Hell, if that had been me, I’d have been a basket case as a player. Most players would have been. But that’s the difference between the good ones and the great ones.”
And perhaps, that’s the difference between the conference finals and a date with destiny with the Los Angeles Lakers. Once more, Allen left the first droplets of sweat on the parquet floor. Once and for all, the shooter made his shots. Garnett is right: Hard to beat Boston this way.