BOSTON – The rest of the Boston Celtics had long ago bailed, leaving the locker room a mess of strewn towels and cold postgame lasagna. Everyone was eager to leave the scene of their 91-84 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, everyone wanted to get out into the cool air and clear their heads.
Perhaps he was taking longer to wash the worst shooting night of his life from his pores. Or maybe Allen was staring into the falling water wondering how, just two nights after hitting the most 3-pointers in a Finals game, he went 0-for-13 from the floor.
One night a record, the next night a wreck.
“It’s a hell of a swing,” Celtics coach Doc River said.
When Allen finally returned to his locker, where a crush of reporters and cameras and recorders awaited, he was impeccably dressed. It did nothing to hide the frustration on his face.
[Photos: See classic images of Celtics-Lakers]
Forty-eight hours ago he’d hit eight 3-pointers to lead the Celtics to victory and spent the postgame answering questions about similarities to Michael Jordan. On Tuesday, he missed eight 3-pointers and five short ones to boot. M.J. wasn’t mentioned.
The only bright note is Allen didn’t miss one more shot, which would’ve tied him for the worst shooting performance in Finals history and given him the most unlikely consecutive record-setting games in history – one at both ends of the spectrum.
[Photos: See Ray Allen in action]
“For me, I always think every one is going in,” Allen would say.
Only this time not a single one did.
“I had a good rhythm out there,” he said.
Only the ball kept clanking away. The owner of the most honey-sweet shot in the NBA lost it somewhere on the flight from L.A. to Boston.
“I think you guys look at it as a difference in the two nights,” Allen said. “I just tip my hat to their defense.”
Doc Rivers thought Allen’s jumper was “flat” and noted that most of his shots fell well short of the rim. Allen said at least a few were blocked. Rivers felt Allen was pressing. Ray said he should’ve found other ways to score.
Mostly, no one knew what the heck had happened. Around the locker room the Celtics kept shaking their heads in disbelief.
“Ray went 0-for-13,” a dumbfounded Glen Davis(notes) said. “Who would have ever thought that? We only lost by a couple of points. He hits a couple of shots and we’re in the game, we’re winning the game.”
Allen didn’t have to be reminded. The Celtics lost for dozens of reasons. An o-fer from a key player is one of them.
The Lakers not only took a 2-1 series lead, they regained home-court advantage heading into Thursday’s Game 4. On Sunday, Allen talked about how special it was to deliver on such a grand stage, to give young players a vision of greatness to strive for – “imprint these good things on kids growing up in the world.”
Now he was building self-esteem the other way. You may not have had a good day at work Tuesday. But you probably didn’t have one worse than Ray Allen.
“This is why you always have to be humble, thankful,” Allen said. “You have to continue to work on things to make you successful. I never hang my head. Tomorrow is another opportunity.”
So here was Allen offering a different lesson. It’s easy to be a role model on the nights when everything goes in. It’s another to stand and talk when everything rims out. He wasn’t happy. He wasn’t enjoying this. He wasn’t offering his familiar smile.
He was standing there and answering every question thrown at him. He kept bringing up Wednesday’s practice.
“I just need to go in there and get my shots up,” he said.
At this point what else is there? Allen is known to arrive early before games and keep tossing up jumpers until he gets into a flow. He’d done just that Tuesday afternoon only to see it break all wrong.
Like a baseball player in a slump or a golfer who suddenly can’t hit his driver, he didn’t know what was wrong. Was it mental? Was it mechanics? Was it really the Lakers’ ability to close out on the perimeter?
Allen just kept crediting the Lakers. It was a classy thing to do. The look on his face said something different, though. He’d just gone from best to worst. Just went from hitting nearly everything to missing them all.
“Who knows?” Allen said. “Who knows?”
He’d soon slip out of the locker room where his family – including his wife and mother – were waiting patiently, long after the back hallways of the once frenzied Garden had quieted.
On the worst night of Ray Allen’s career, he was the only Celtic in no hurry to get home.