Ailing Allen Rises Up in Game 7

BOSTON - Ray Allen only made three of his 11 shots on Saturday night and couldn't get much lift on his jumper. But two big shots provided all the lift the Celtics needed from him in Game 7.

Allen connected on a pair of 3-pointers and scored eight of his 11 points in the fourth quarter, and the Celtics won the seventh and decisive game of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Philadelphia 76ers, 85-75. The win advanced the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat, and the team spent Sunday afternoon in the sky heading for South Beach.

Ray Allen

Ray Allen has struggled with his ankle and his shooting throughout the postseason, but he connected on a pair of 3s in the fourth quarter of Game 7 to help the Celtics advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
David Dow/NBAE/Getty

It shouldn’t be surprising to hear that Allen hit some clutch 3s in the fourth quarter, but given his struggles just to keep his nagging right ankle in playing shape, his performance might have been the breakthrough he’s been looking for since the postseason began. While at times he’s been more of a decoy than a threat, he came up big when the season was on the line.

Sound familiar? Sixers coach Doug Collins, who’s broadcasted several of Allen’s playoff games, was all too aware of Allen’s ability to shake off a poor shooting performance and rise up at the perfect time.

“We never want to give Ray Allen a clean look at a 3. The one thing about great shooters is that they are going to keep shooting,” Collins said minutes after his team had been vanquished by the Celtics at TD Garden. “He knocked down those two 3s and gave them some distance. That’s what great players do.”

Allen’s struggled to do what he normally does, as the ankle problem has kept him out of two games, limited his mobility and has made it tough to get his usual lift beneath his jump shot in the postseason. Allen’s game is largely predicated on spacing the floor and getting open by running off screens, but he’s rarely found himself with daylight in the first two rounds of postseason play.

Allen actually got open looks in Game 7, but for most of the night his shot was simply off-target. Thankfully, that’s never stopped him from reloading.

“Ray is the ultimate gunslinger. I mean, really. That’s what makes great players great,” said Doc Rivers, who noted that in his own playing days, he’d stop shooting when his shot wasn’t falling. “You’ve got to have a set to do that, you really do. It was just impressive. And you felt like if he got a shot — I didn’t know if he was going to make it, but I knew he was going to take it.”

The one moment that gave Rivers pause was midway through the third quarter, when he saw Allen pass up a pair of wide open shots. When he pulled him from the game, he made it clear to Allen that he didn’t want him on the floor if he was going to pass up open looks.

“I told Doc I couldn’t shoot at that time, I had too much pain at that point in my foot,” Allen said, after earlier commenting that he was “guessing” on his shots because of the ankle. “I didn’t even think about shooting it because I couldn’t get any lift.”

As for how much Allen is hurting, the stats tell most of the story. Given his status as the NBA’s all-time 3-point king, his 14-for-52 (.269) mark from behind the arc has been tough to watch, but perhaps even more surprising are Allen’s struggles at the free-throw line, where he’s shooting just 65 percent over 11 postseason games.

Allen’s a prideful player, and while his physical limitations are well known, excuses just aren’t part of his DNA. When a reporter suggested that he was playing “on one leg” during a pre-practice interview on Friday, Allen replied tersely, “I have two legs.”

He was in far better spirits on Saturday night, as he said that the Celtics were “one step closer.”

“This is where it starts to get fun and you know what you’re playing for,” Allen said.

Eight wins away from the ultimate goal, Allen’s ankle is still hurting, and it isn’t likely to improve. As long as he can physically play, he’s not about to let temporary pain prevent him from another chance at permanent glory.