Posted Jun 9 2010 8:05AM
BOSTON -- Gaping as a swimming pool. Tiny as a teacup.
En fuego. Cold as ice.
Heat check then. Gut check now.
Forty-eight hours equaled 180 degrees for Boston Celtics guard Ray Allen in arguably one of the biggest individual turnarounds, one game to the next, in NBA Finals history Tuesday night. Allen didn't bring his incredible 3-point performance from Game 2 Sunday in Los Angeles home, he dragged it kicking and screaming into the House of Mirrors.
Two nights after stirring echoes of Reggie Miller and Michael Jordan with 7-of-7 shooting from the arc to start, 8-of-11 overall and 32 points in a game that earned the Celtics home-court advantage in this best-of-seven series, Allen went flip-flop like a nervous politician. He took 13 shots and missed 13, including an 0-for-8 showing from 3-point range that, by the end, had devolved into 0-for-crying-out-loud.
Allen, as sweet a shooter as exists in the NBA on most nights, even missed a layup late after an offensive foul against Kevin Garnett with 32 seconds, a shot that wouldn't have counted but served as an in-Ray's-face reminder that for him, in this one, the baskets were closed. Drove that same point home for the Celtics, too, in a 91-84 loss that handed the home edge right back to the Lakers.
From marksman to scattershooter. From shock and awe to aw, shucks. From out-of-body to out of answers. And Boston needs one fast -- appropriately, in the next 48 hours -- as it scrambles to get its best players playing well together.
Garnett struggled in the first two games; Paul Pierce hasn't been himself in all three so far. Allen was shackled by foul trouble in Game 1, fired back in Game 2, and then offered up an outing that was train-wreck bad, so jarring you couldn't turn away. What had been marvelous rainbows on hostile hardwood Sunday were ugly clotheslines hung badly above the parquet, again and again. At Staples the other night, Allen's shots were so clean they barely rippled the nets. At TD Garden, the rims seemed as lidded as Sam Perkins' eyes.
Everything Allen did in Game 2, he didn't in Game 3, and not one bit from lack of trying. In baseball terms, he was a pitcher who went from perfect game in one start to an ERA of infinity in the next. But then, this was basketball.
Oh, was it ever basketball.
"It's a hell of a swing, I'll tell you that," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "You know, it's basketball. That's why you can't worry about it. He'll be back in the gym [Wednesday] and getting ready for the next game. I thought he was pressing early on some of them, and honestly, I thought all of his shots looked flat tonight. I didn't think he had any legs.
"I don't know if the [sore] knee and the thigh had anything to do with it, but I just thought he was short on most of his jump shots. Of the 13, I think eight of them were great looks and all of them were short, all of them were flat. It happens to the best of us."
Put that way, it can only happen to the best of them. Only by shooting as brilliantly, as uncannily, as Allen did Sunday could he set so high a bar that laid him so low. Allen missed five shots in the first quarter, six in the third and took only two in the 18 minutes 9 seconds he played, combined, in the second and fourth.
Allen came within one miss -- that layup if not for the whistle -- of matching Hall of Fame-bound guard Dennis Johnson's 0-for-14 for the worst shooting night in Finals history; Johnson, with Seattle at the time, clanged his way to the post-shot clock record against Washington in Game 7 of the 1978 Finals. (Baltimore's Chick Reiser shot 0-of-14 against Philadelphia in 1948 before the 24-second clock debuted.)
Allen's eight misses from the arc brought to mind New York guard John Starks' notorious 0-for-11 from out there in Game 7 of the 1994 Finals vs. Houston. But league history paled next to Allen's own personal version: According to quick research pulled by NBA.com's John Schuhmann, in 1,118 previous regular season or postseason games, Allen's worst goose-egg night had been 0-for-9s. And only seven times had he failed to get at least one field goal.
"When things go great, it's great to be a part of," Allen said. "But you have to make good decisions moving forward and continue to work on things you need to do to be good in the future. Preparation is the biggest key. I never hang my head. Tomorrow is always another opportunity to get right back on track."
Because there are two teams in these games, the same Lakers who failed to defend against Allen's eye-blink catches and releases in Game 2 succeeded in Game 3. But how, exactly?
"Understand spots on the floor, where he's trying to get to get his shots off," guard Derek Fisher said. Fisher, a hero Tuesday at both ends and in huddles too, had the primary and exhausting responsibility for checking and chasing Allen. But he got help, both directly and indirectly.
"We wanted to pick our spots to get a little bit more pressure. Get Kobe a little bit closer to Rajon to take away some of the sharp passing angles, where he can get the ball to Ray really fast right in his shooting pocket. And from there, it's just trusting that if you keep making him work, he won't necessarily hit eight out of 11 three's every night."
Said L.A. coach Phil Jackson: "We didn't really want to have Ray to have an option to go either way. ... When he's got both options, sometimes it's very difficult to stop hm because he's got two big pickers that are sitting baseline or at the top of the key. ... A couple of guys stepped up and helped fish -- Pau [Gasol] got it, I think Ron [Artest] helped block a shot with Derek."
It was a team effort, in other words. Which is what Rivers, the Celtics, and their fans are seeking right now. Through three games, this has been one great slot machine for them, the oranges, apples and cherries never quite coming in line. One or two of Boston's main guys play well, one or two do not. If the Celtics were fortunate to win Game 2 with both Garnett and Pierce sputtering, they wasted Garnett's revival in Game 3. Pierce could ascend in Game 4 Thursday but, given the pattern, people will be waiting to see which teammate falls flat.
Meanwhile, Boston's defense has kept Kobe Bryant relatively in check (39.4 percent shooting, 4-of-16 from 3-point range). That could change too when the Celtics need it least. It has turned Rivers into a plate spinner, working as fast as he can while trying to keep the wobblers from hitting the floor.
Ray Allen hit the floor Tuesday. So, hey, at least he hit something.
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