EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 20, 2008

Shooting Blanks: Allen's mysterious slump could cost C's the Piston series

Bill Burt column

BOSTON — Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers took the question after the thrilling Game 7 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers and ran with it:

What is wrong with Ray Allen?

Rivers, who is honest to a fault sometimes, was not biting on this one.

"Oh, they were doubling him every time he touched the ball," said Rivers. "It was crazy. They had two people all over him. And he did what he was supposed to do and pass the ball."

Rivers was taking one for the team. He was protecting someone who needs protecting right now. But if Allen's slump continues in the Eastern Conference finals against Detroit (Game 1 is tonight in Boston), the C's will be in big trouble.

I don't know what Rivers was watching against the Cleveland Cavaliers the last two weeks, but most of the time it was Wally Szczerbiak — yes, Wally (Bleepin') Szczerbiak — in his face. Yes, the same Wally Szczerbiak who had defensive replacements when he played for the Celtics.

Allen is lucky the Celtics are alive to talk about it.

Since Game 6 of the opening-round series with Atlanta, the 2007-08 version of The Big Three has really been The Big Two.

Allen has averaged a paltry nine points per game over that span and hasn't hit more than two 3-pointers, his bread and butter. He is averaging about half of what he did during the regular season, 17.4.

"I'm taking what they're giving me," said Allen. "We have enough players here where I don't have to score 30 to win. Trust me, that's a refreshing feeling, knowing it all isn't on me."

One would think that not having that pressure of always being the 25-point-a-night guy would help Allen thrive even more.

But he hasn't.

His calling card, the 3-point shot, which he said "chicks dig more than dunks," has been AWOL. In fact, he has not made a 3-pointer in four of his last seven games.

And over his last nine games Allen has made only six of 37 shots from behind the arc, which is a putrid 16.2 percent.

This is not what the Celtics were expecting from one of the purest shooters in NBA history. It's a far cry from early in the season when he was Mr. Clutch.

"I told Ray that if he didn't score a point but we won a championship that would be OK," said Rivers. "Just the fact that he's on the court, drawing double coverage, is a plus for us. Trust me, everyone that plays us knows where Ray Allen is on the court at all times. And that opens things up for the other guys."

Well, it's not going to get any easier the next week or two with the Pistons on the schedule. The Pistons could teach the Cavs a lesson or two on how to play defense. They, in fact, were No. 1 in fewest points allowed this season, at 90.1 per game, barely ahead of the Celtics (90.3).

While Allen scored 24 points in the first encounter with the Pistons in December, an 87-85 Detroit win, his last two outings were very much like the last few weeks. Allen tallied only nine points and three points in the two Celtics wins in January and March.

"I know people are concerned about Ray, but we're not," said Paul Pierce. "I see him every day in practice. The guy is one of the best shooters I've ever seen. If people want to doubt him, that's their problem. I know he's going to come through for us."

Well, nobody could use a day or two off more than Pierce, whose Game 7 matchup with LeBron James ranks among some of the all-time playoff duels.

If Pierce even shows up for the game, after the way he limped out of the Boston Garden after the Cleveland series, that would be enough.

Allen, though, needs to do better, maybe even carry the Celtics for a change and get that Big Three train going again.

E-mail Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.