Allen Puts Ankle to Test in Game 3
BOSTON - Ray Allen had been out of action for almost a month before he stepped on the floor for his first nine-minute stint of action Friday night.
A week ago, he told teammates that he didn’t expect to even play in the series. However, over the last three days his ankle improved drastically and Allen returned to the lineup for Game 3 against Atlanta. It shouldn’t surprise anyone by now, but Allen didn’t miss a beat. As far as we can tell, his ankle is holding up just fine despite playing nearly 37 minutes in the Celtics‘ 90-84 overtime win over the Hawks.
“I didn’t think that I would be playing this soon if I looked at how I felt last week,” Allen said after the game.
Allen played 17 consecutive minutes to close out regulation and overtime to cap his night, a 13-point, six-rebound effort that marked his first NBA action since April 10 against the Miami Heat. Allen’s been sidelined with a right ankle injury that he says will require offseason surgery to fix.
When it comes to Allen and surgery, it’s usually a reference to his surgical precision shooting the ball from long range. Allen didn’t hit a 3-pointer Friday night (0-for-4 on 3-pointers), but he gave the Celtics 37 minutes off the bench, a contribution far beyond the realistic expectations the team had for his return. Sure, it wasn’t your prototypical Ray Allen box score, but it was enough to help the Celtics take a 2-1 series lead over a depleted Hawks team that played without budding star Josh Smith and other key pieces.
Allen checked in to a loud standing ovation for the last 4:40 of the first quarter and wasted no time getting his shots up. He connected on two of his first four attempts, scoring four of his eight first-half points. But even more importantly, he revealed no ill effects from the right ankle injury that shelved him the first two playoff games versus Atlanta.
For a man who’s a slave to routine, the uncertainty of the last few weeks, from making the move from starter to sixth man and then battling injury, has been an adjustment for Allen.
“I’ve been so off routine for the last two months, me being who I am, it’s been tough,” Allen admitted, noting that it was strange to be out of the mix with his teammates for so long. “You’re on the outside looking in trying to be a part of the team. Being back on the floor, I felt alive. I was back in my own skin and it felt great.”
Leading up to Game 3, Celtics Coach Doc Rivers was telling reporters that even 10 minutes of Allen would help open the floor up for the C’s, but Allen came back to play and wasn’t about to underserve his team if he was healthy enough to go.
“Tonight, honestly, we needed him,” Rivers said. “It’s amazing the difference when he’s on the floor in our spacing, and how much more difficult it is for guys to help (off of Allen).”
What’s not difficult is Allen finding his way back into the team concept that this Celtics team has honed over the last five seasons. For a player like Allen, who prides himself on being a world-class athlete, preparation certainly wasn’t a concern.
"The guy missed a month of basketball, and to play the way he did, that just shows how hard he's working,” point guard Rajon Rondo said of Allen. “He takes care of his body and he’s ready to play."
Of course, neither Rivers nor Allen was planning on overtime. And now, Doc’s best-laid plans are going astray, as Allen may find himself back in the starting lineup. Avery Bradley left Friday’s game with a left shoulder dislocation, an ailment he’s been battling all season, and one that could knock him out of the lineup on Sunday.
It’s too early to know what Bradley’s status will be for Game 4, but Allen’s well aware that he may end up in the starting lineup until further notice. Either way, he’s ready to pull his weight.
“I never really worry about whether I’m starting, Starting is an ego thing. The biggest compliment is (being among) the five guys who finish the game,” Allen said.
As much as he likes routine, Allen’s adept at adapting to whatever’s thrown at him. The normalcy he seeks may prove elusive, but being back the floor is the first and most important step on that journey.
In the meantime, Rivers canceled Saturday’s practice. “I don’t want Ray in the gym,” Rivers said. “He might try to do something. Shoot.”
Instead, Allen will ice and elevate his sore right ankle tonight knowing he’s headed in the right direction and is back in the fold.