EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 29, 2008

Ray-demption: Slumping guard saves the day

Bill Burt

BOSTON — Everything changes now. The game at Detroit tomorrow night. A potential series next week with the Los Angeles Lakers. Everything.

Ray Allen did what he's done for most of his life, effortlessly sinking long jump shots, and the Boston Celtics looked like the best basketball team in the land. Again.

Where has he been the last month or so, hitting nine 3-pointers over his last 13 games? Nobody knows, not even Allen.

The Detroit Pistons played a great game, making a vintage fourth quarter comeback from 13 down (91-78) to get within one point (100-99), but the difference was Allen. He led Boston to a closer-than-necessary 106-102 victory to give the C's a 3-2 series lead.

We can talk all day about Allen's unselfishness, which has been exemplary. But he was brought here, for $16 million a season, to shoot, because when he shoots, the world seems to be better place.

Allen scored 29 points last night, the most he has scored since Feb. 2 against Golden State. But it was from where he scored ... far, far away.

Allen's first 3-pointer put the Celtics ahead 8-5, but it felt like a game-winner, as the Celtics faithful understand what's been brewing. His second was even bigger, giving the Celtics their first lead of the second quarter, 44-42.

"Everyone kept saying he needs one," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, referring to Allen's 3-pointers. "My belief was he needed two or three in a row instead of one ... to get it going."

These were not the "open looks" we've been hearing about either. These there Allen really looking for his shot, running from one side of the court to the other until he got the ball.

Allen appeared to have turned this game into a blowout with back to back 3's in 26 seconds, putting the Celtics ahead 68-54.

His fifth and last trey came with 1:36 remaining in the third quarter, again bringing 18,624 screaming fans to their feet, to put the Celtics ahead 82-67.

It was unlike anything we had seen in the playoffs and really over the last three months.

"He didn't hesitate," said Pistons coach Flip Saunders. "I think the previous times we played he had a little bit more hesitation in his shooting."

Saunders reiterated what Rivers has said all along. Even when Allen isn't making his shots, he is one heck of a decoy.

"No matter how many shots he's missed, you've still got to guard him against the next one," said Saunders. "He's too good of a shooter."

The irony is his biggest shots weren't necessarily the five 3-pointers, four of which were from 25 feet away. It was Allen's baseline jumper, with the score 100-99 and the Celtics crumbling.

If he missed, the Celtics were looking at a horrific collapse.

It came following a timeout with only six seconds on the shot clock, a timeout that had to be called because Allen dribbled into the corner and almost lost the ball.

But he redeemed himself. James Posey threw the ball to Allen, who instinctively looked toward the basket and fired up the jumper with 1:02 remaining in the game.

"I didn't think about getting behind the 3," said Allen. "Just go for the shot and don't worry about it."

Allen wasn't done.

With 6.3 seconds remaining in the game and the Pistons within a point again (102-101), Allen was fouled.

A career .889 free throw shooter, Allen stepped to the line and every Celtics fan in the world probably breathed a sigh of relief. Apparently, those last two free throws, though, weren't a given.

"Just being in that situation where you know everybody is looking at you," said Allen. "And they're like, 'He's statistically one of the best free throw shooters on the team. He's got to make these free throws."

Allen made them, the eventual clinchers, and the Celtics are now one game away from a berth in the NBA finals.

He's now a white-hot 56-of-60 from the line this postseason.

"I knew he had it in him," said Rivers.

So did we. Now, finally, so does his team.

The Celtics not only won a big playoff game against a playoff-tested team. They got their long, lost shooter back.

And that doesn't bode well for anybody in their path.

E-mail Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com. Check out his blog, Burt Talks Sports, at blogs.eagletribune.com/sports.