BOSTON — Ray Allen looked like he was shot out of a gun. As soon as he reached the top of the key, he caught the ball, rose up over Joakim Noah and released. The high-arching jumper fell through the net cleanly with two seconds on the clock.
¬ The 3-pointer, which came off a Rajon Rondo feed, gave Boston a 118-115 victory in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals in front of a full house at TD Banknorth Garden. Allen — 30 points, six treys — kept his team afloat last night.
¬ His performance was the most spectacular aspect of a spectacular contest. Like Dominique Wilkins and Larry Bird in 1988 and Paul Pierce and LeBron James in 2008, Allen and fellow University of Connecticut alum Ben Gordon staged a playoff duel.
¬ "I'll talk about it over the summer and I'll laugh with him about it," said Allen, whose club tied the series 1-1. "But you know, we were exchanging jabs there, and I don't mean shots, I mean he caught me with an elbow. I got him right back with an elbow. It was just ... competitive." ¬
¬ On the 23-year anniversary of Michael Jordan's 63-point performance against the Celtics, Gordon poured in 42 points, including a 16-footer that tied the game at 115 with 12 seconds to go. But like, Mike, LeBron and Dominique before him, Gordon fell victim to the Celtics, who somehow found a way to prevail.
¬ "I pray that Danny Ainge didn't watch this game," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of his boss, who's recovering from a minor heart attack.
The 33-year-old Allen needed this one. He went 1 for 12 and scored four points in Game 1. For a while, Game 2 wasn't looking much better. He only scored one basket in the first half.
¬ "Going into the third quarter," Allen said, "(Rivers) said, 'Be aggressive but let it come to you.' And that's exactly what I was thinking when he told me that at that moment...I wasn't going to force anything."
¬ He proceeded to explode for 28 points in the second half.
¬ "It was fun and it felt like we were at UConn in the summer time playing pickup," said Gordon, who went 14 of 24 from the field and 8 of 9 from the line. "He is a great shooter and I knew he would break out eventually. We just didn't have an answer for him at the end."
The final play was really a no-brainer.
¬ "Ray makes big shots. And that's what we said in the timeout (before the final sequence)," Rivers said of Allen, who went 9 of 18 from the field. "If we can get him open guys, he doesn't need much room."
¬ Rondo didn't have to do much. A couple stationary dribbles on the NBA Playoffs logo by the sideline and one quick fire to a streaking Allen, who was aided by Pierce crossing up the Bulls and forcing a defensive switch.
¬ "Right when I saw Paul curl, I saw their two smalls get mixed up," Rivers said. "I actually thought Ray was going to be wide open. And when he got it, Noah came from nowhere. That was a hell of a recovery from him."
¬ Still, it wasn't enough to stop Allen. Kirk Hinrich, who switched to Pierce, smartly alerted Noah to get on Allen. By then it was too late.
¬ "I think for that split second," Allen said, "Hinrich, he looked up and he pointed to Noah to help, and it was too late. Rondo made the pass and the rest is history."
¬ Tyrus Thomas attempted a half-court heave at the buzzer. It didn't come close.
¬ The injured Kevin Garnett gave Allen such a hard congratulatory slap in the head afterward, I would've sent him to Mass General for a CAT scan. Allen almost looked angry when his final shot fell. I guess it was his way of saying, "I'm not done yet."
¬ But really, that final bucket wasn't the whole story. His second-to-last trifecta of the night, a 26-foot bomb from the wing, might've been even more improbable. It gave the Celtics a 115-113 lead with 25 seconds remaining.
¬ After that one, Allen let out a "WOO!" that would've made Ric Flair proud.
¬ "Ray was huge for us," Pierce said. "We did a (great) job of getting him open...When you look at the film we really didn't do that in Game 1. Tonight we made a concerted effort, because we feel like they don't have anybody that can match up with him."
¬ And as a result, the Celtics are very much alive and well.