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The Ray Allen Play Featuring Ray Allen

by Couper Moorhead

For the first time in three years, the Miami HEAT enter the season as a known quantity. Sure, there a few rotation questions that will get sorted out over time, but for the most part we know how the team is going to play and what lineups they are going to use. The HEAT won a championship with a very distinct identity, but even with a couple of additions nothing has changed what this team is.

For the first time in three years, we don’t quite know what to expect from the Boston Celtics. The core of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett remains intact with the notable exception of Ray Allen and the team will remain a defensive monster, but everything around the fringes exists in a haze of uncertainty. The talent on hand isn’t in doubt, but no amount of preseason basketball will ever quite answer the questions that swirl around any new rotation.

For two years we preached patience with the HEAT, saying that the team you see in Week 1 will in no way resemble the team you see in Week 20, and now the same is true of the Celtics. No matter the outcome of tonight’s season opener, a little uncertainty requires time to solve. More than a game, more than a week, more than a month.

In the meantime, there will still be plenty of familiarity between these two teams, including a play Miami tends to run that’s right out of Doc Rivers’ playbook.

HEAT fans might remember early last season when the team was losing to the Minnesota Timberwolves. With the score tied and less than 10 seconds remaining, Erik Spoelstra drew up a play to have Dwyane Wade run around two screens, hit the top of the key, and then hurtle towards the rim for a lob pass. It worked, LeBron James hitting Wade perfectly in stride.

It also worked a couple of years before, when Rivers took down the HEAT using the exact same set.

But this time, it’s not just a one-off. Rivers, deservedly hailed as a brilliant play-caller, had killed teams late in games over and over by having Ray Allen slip off high-screens and following that up immediately with a second pick set for the ballhandler by Kevin Garnett. The set consistently earned Boston open looks because, when executed properly, only the most disciplined defenses could defend so many moving parts.

So, as part of a constant effort to instill motion into Miami’s offense, Spoelstra took what worked.

“It was one of Ray’s plays. That was the genesis of it,” Spoelstra said. “It had hurt us enough, so we figured we might as well steal it.”

For much of last year – at the very minimum a dozen games – when the HEAT had a timeout left and last possession in the first half, Spoelstra would call for the Ray Allen Special (using more HEATified lingo). Players would wait until there was about 10 seconds left on the clock and suddenly spring into motion. A corner screen for James. A shooter running baseline. A slipped high-pick. Another pick-and-roll. Another cut. Sometimes the HEAT would score, sometimes they wouldn’t, but when the timing was right, they almost always got a good look – just look at the final minutes of Game 4 in New York last season when that slip-screen got James an open three.

A year later, and the HEAT get to run The Ray Allen Special Now Featuring Ray Allen.

“We’ve scouted him so much and we know what he likes to run and what they used to run for him,” Dwyane Wade said of Allen. “We always, whenever we played, we’d always used Ray as an example. Now Ray is on the team so sometimes coach has to catch himself, like ‘Now I’m running it for Ray Allen.’”

Miami ran it for Allen the first time the other night, so let’s take a look at the team’s first go at a play you will surely see again:

The set-up is nothing out of the ordinary. Ballhandler up top, shooters in either corner, Chris Bosh waiting free-throw line extended on one side and a slasher waiting on the opposite elbow.

The only difference this time is that last year it would be James or Wade in the right corner. Now it’s Allen, waiting for the clock to strike 10.

And off they go.

First, the staple of many Spoelstra of Spoelstra’s after-timeout plays: the baseline runner.

“That position can be Mike Miller, James Jones, or it can be Ray,” Rashard Lewis said. “[Spoelstra] wanted me to go to the corner to prevent the help. If somebody takes the roll man and obviously the guy in the corner would be open.”

“[It’s] just to have an active recipient. That guy is live. He could be open,” Spoelstra said.

Elsewhere, the bulk of the play is developing. Wade sets a screen for Allen in the corner, and the defense switches, thus beginning Allen’s dilemma. Here, he can either set a hard pick for James, or fake it, slip underneath James’ defender and flare out to the far wing for a three.

We’ll let him take you through it:

“If I know they’re going to switch I’m just going to slip,” Allen said. “And then that’s going to leave two on the ball. If they do switch all together when I set the screen, you’ve got my guy on LeBron. So that’s not a bad mismatch for us to take advantage of.

“I just read it. Obviously, I’ve run it a lot. When I came up to the top, the guy that was guarding me was yelling, ‘Screen, Screen, Screen.’ He didn’t say switch and I think it was Aminu that was guarding him. He just stayed there. For me to slip I would have blown up the play. So I had to screen him to create and action.

“Now they have to make a decision. It’s like a split-second where you have to read what they’re doing. Sometimes you see the guy, he kind of jumps up. If he jumps up already then I’ve got to hit him. And if he tries to go at me then I just slip because he can’t get underneath me. You see it enough, it’s just a read.”

Maybe it was just Allen’s familiarity with the play, but there’s a little bit of irony in the fact that of all the times the HEAT have run this play, Allen might have been the first to actually set a hard pick up top.

There’s surely a bit of preseason timing issues here, but Allen setting the screen and not slipping actually seemed to make James pause for a moment. But as Bosh comes over to clear some more room – with Wade wheeling back around to fill the gap at the top of the arc – Anthony Davis makes a very aware defensive slide into James’ path.

While James doesn’t seem to have anywhere to go, he also has 80 percent of the defense keyed in on him around the free-throw line. When that happens, James tends to find an open man.

This time it’s Lewis, who receives a flickofthewrist bullet from James in the corner.

The shot skims over the top of the basket, but this is still Mission Accomplished for Miami. The HEAT got an open look at a high-percentage shot and killed the clock in the process, even with things hardly looking as crisp in motion as they will a few months from now.

And each time the result could be different. Allen might spring for a quick three, James could burst off the first or second ball-screen and get to the rim, or it could be Bosh slipping his pick and getting free or in the paint. Wade could even get hand-off from James as he sprints up top and find Allen if he sinks into the left corner.

Plenty of possibilities, but it all starts with Allen.

"He pulls so many triggers that it makes it hard to zone in on certain guys," Wade said."

It might only be one play one once a game by each team, but it’s a bit of strategic common ground between two programs pitted as rivals. Emotions might run high tonight and in many others nights this season, but in the details of each game there’s often going to be a bit of imitation, which begets flattery, which begets respect.

“If you look around the league, a lot of stuff is kind of regurgitated from past coaches,” Allen said. “We give college a lot of credit because you can be watching a college game and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to try that play from the previous college game.’ So it is a copycat league, but when you have great players in certain positions, it almost seems unstoppable.”