Ray Returns to Stardom as Ankle Heals

BOSTON – Ray Allen has been there all along during this incredible playoff run by the Boston Celtics, but he was really there Sunday night.

Ray Allen is back.

Ray Allen

Ray Allen seems to have his balance and lift back on his jump shot, and that's a scary notion for the Heat to handle.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty

For the first time since mid-March, Allen looked and felt like himself again during Sunday night’s 93-91 overtime victory over the Miami Heat. The bone spurs in Allen’s right ankle that have dogged him for months didn’t seem to affect him, and that fact was evident from the get-go.

Allen started out Sunday’s game in attack mode while Boston’s offense was “flawless,” to use Doc Rivers’ term. The all-time 3-point king cashed in on three of his five 3-point attempts in the first half and made four of his seven shot attempts overall in the half. For the first time in a long time, Allen didn’t just take the shots that the opponent gave to him. Instead, he searched for those shots, and the final box score hammers home that aggressiveness.

He finished Game 4 with 16 points on 6-of-16 shooting. Those 16 points were the most he has scored in a game since dropping 17 on the 76ers back on May 14. His 16 shots were the most he had attempted in a single game since April 7 against the Indiana Pacers, when he attempted 18. April 7!

Those stats and the good old eye test aren’t misleading anyone who cares to take them into consideration. Allen is feeling as good as he has in a long, long time.

“Just my legs, they've gotten considerably better. Actually, my leg, my ankle,” Allen said following Game 4. “Just going into the game, starting the game, having my legs underneath me is, for me, it's a huge deal now.”

Allen is a creature of habit, maybe more so than any other player this league has ever seen. Throughout these playoffs, he had deviated from his routine of firing up hundreds of shots hours before games and practices in an attempt to preserve his ankle for upcoming games. Allen abruptly ditched that plan last week, and it seems to have paid off not only health-wise, but also for his shooting mechanics.

“I just think he’s more comfortable with what’s going on with his ankle and foot,” Rivers ironically said about an hour before Allen lit it up during Game 4. “So, yeah, I guess that would be a difference, and I think he’s kind of figured out his balance issue. I think he’s shooting it quicker and with better balance, which is good.”

When Allen is good, he makes the Celtics great. His ability to knock down shots adds another dimension to Boston’s offense. We saw that in Game 4, as the Celtics were scoring at their best when Allen was shooting and scoring with confidence.

Those characteristics haven’t been evident over the past month. As recently as a week ago, Allen was in essence just a pawn on the court. He couldn’t defend and opponents viewed him a mere threat from long range, not as the most lethal outside shooter of all time. If anyone, even Allen himself, told you that they truly expected his shots to fall through the basket, their nose would almost certainly go Pinocchio on you.

Not anymore. Not after Game 4.

Now, with his rediscovered balance and improved health, Allen is again demanding with his play that he be viewed as the all-time 3-point king that he is.

It’s an incredible turn of events for the 36-year-old sharpshooter. Rivers and Allen’s teammates have been lauding Allen for his toughness nearly every time they have spoken to the media. Rivers recently said that most players wouldn’t be able to play through the pain with which Allen is dealing.

Internally, Allen has to agree with that assessment. Following Sunday night’s performance, he spoke openly about how difficult this injury has been on him.

“Well, at my lowest point I was ready to have surgery,” Allen confessed. “I didn't think that I would get any better, because I was doing all the things I needed to do treatment wise and just staying off of it. It didn't seem like it was going to get any better.”

But it has, and now Allen has seemingly morphed back into the game-changer that he has become known as over the past 16 NBA seasons.