Allen Drills Clutch 3 Thanks to Perfect Execution

BOSTON – Throw all of the talk about Ray Allen’s shooting struggles and the Boston Celtics’ inability to execute out the window. It’s a new season, folks.

The Celtics won Game 1 of their first-round series against the New York Knicks in dramatic fashion Sunday night because they were able to avoid two of their most obvious late-season deficiencies: getting the ball to Allen and executing to perfection. Those are two qualities that are critical to Boston’s success, and they were evident in the most important play of Sunday’s 87-85 victory.

With 21 seconds remaining on the clock and no timeouts in its pocket, Boston used Allen as its inbounder for its final offensive possession of the game. Rajon Rondo had previously attempted to play that role twice, but the first attempt resulted in a timeout and the second concluded with a kicked ball.

The move to switch Allen over to the inbounder role happened after the Knicks had moved Jared Jeffries, who is a long 6-foot-11, over to defend Rondo. Rondo couldn’t get a pass by Jeffries, so the C’s exchanged Allen and Rondo’s roles. That switch may have been the key to the eventual go-ahead basket.

Allen held the ball in side-out position on the right sideline of Boston’s frontcourt and tossed his pass in to Paul Pierce near halfcourt. That’s when the magic of Boston’s most coveted crunch time play went into effect.

“We’ve ran that play many times in different situations,” Allen said, sitting alongside Paul Pierce at the postgame press conference. “Sometimes the shot goes in, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes Paul has the ball in his hands and he shoots it and he scores it. There are so many different options off of that play that we went to that we knew exactly what to expect. We don’t pre-determine.”

In other words, the Celtics expected to score, they just didn’t know who would make the shot.

That man would eventually be Allen after he sprinted from his inbounding position directly across the court to the left wing. During that 45-foot sprint, Kevin Garnett stepped in the path and picked off Toney Douglas, who was trailing Allen from behind. Douglas collapsed to the floor as a result of Garnett’s pick, which freed up Allen on the wing. Instead of taking the shot himself, which he did against the Knicks in a similar situation on March 21, Pierce chose to dish the ball off to Allen for the game-winning 3-pointer with less than 12 seconds remaining.

Ray Allen shot 9-of-15 from the field Sunday night, including the game-winning 3-pointer with 11.6 seconds remaining.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty

“You know, Ray’s the hero with the shot, (but) to me Paul’s the hero with the pass,” said Doc Rivers, who made sure to give his props to every Celtic who deserved them. “That’s a great example of not playing hero basketball; just trusting what we drew up.”

Trust is necessary in order to execute in the game of basketball. To put it bluntly, that trust hasn’t been a part of Celtics Basketball over the past two months.

Boston blew several fourth-quarter leads during March and April en route to their 10-11 record over the final 21 games of the regular season. Many of those losses stung and left the C’s wondering when, if ever, their trustworthy play would return. A week without a game and three consecutive practices later, that crunch time Ubuntu was back in business on Sunday.

“It’s funny, because we have not been executing great of late,” Rivers said after the game, clearly elated that such execution had resurfaced. “And all we stressed this week (was) that it may come down to one play and execution, and our guys did it.”

They certainly did, and it happened by relying on a player who had been lost in Boston’s offense since the All-Star break.

Allen has had a career year this season in regard to shooting percentages from the field and 3-point range. That continual hot shooting was a product of him getting open looks and cashing in on them at a ridiculously high rate. However, those looks, like many of Boston’s greatest traits, have been few and far between since the Celtics’ shocking trade of Kendrick Perkins.

Allen had averaged a season-high 14.4 field goal attempts per game in 11 games during the month of February, eight of which were played before the Perkins trade. That number dropped down to 11.5 in March and then down to 8.7 in April.

To be frank, that’s simply not enough looks for the team’s purest shooter. Reporters have been haggling Allen and the rest of Boston’s team to find out just why, exactly, those numbers were on a steady decline.

“I try not to focus on that,” Allen said after acknowledging that he’s consistently been pinged about his shooting for the past couple of weeks. “Offensively we are our own worst enemies if we don’t move the ball around. I’m not going to fall into that hole thinking that I got to shoot that ball. This team, we’ve got a lot of great scorers.”

And he’s one of them. All Allen needs is the opportunity to prove as much, and he was afforded that chance tonight.

The all-time 3-point king attempted more than 10 shots only three times in his final eight games of the regular season, but on Sunday night he fired up 15 shots. Nine of those attempts splashed through the net, including three 3-pointers. Many will look to his 3-of-5 shooting performance from downtown as the driving force of his shooting night, but Allen points to his other attempts as the source of his hot hand.

“Paul will tell you, as a shooter/scorer, you don’t want to come out and have a couple of early 3s for looks,” said Allen. “You want to make sure that you get to the hole, get to the free-throw line. Just get the feel for the basketball, get the feel for being in the game.”

Allen was able to accomplish that tonight in the early moments of the second quarter. He did not attempt a shot in the first period, but came out in the second and got the scoring underway with a floating jumper on the right baseline for his first points of the night. Just a minute and a half later, he scored Boston’s next basket on a smooth 17-footer, again from the right baseline. That basket was followed up with two free throws to cap his six consecutive points, and from that point on, he was locked in until the final buzzer.

Trusting Allen to deliver in the most pivotal of moments has been a staple of this Celtics team for four years now, and so has execution. The final basket of Sunday’s Game 1 is proof that while each of those characteristics may have disappeared for a while, they certainly haven’t gone away for good. Instead, they’re resurfacing at the perfect time, and that’s exactly what Allen and the Celtics needed.

Rivers summed that notion up best with two concise sentences after the game: “That was big for him. And it was big for our team.”