The first breakaway resulted in a textbook layup. Safe, sure, thought Tony Allen.
"I was scared," the Celtics' swingman admitted after Friday night's 107-82 destruction of the Bulls.
The second breakaway resulted in a dunk. So did the third, this one with a little more oomph. On each dunk, Allen hung on the rim just long enough to brace for the fall and just short enough so as not to get a technical foul.
"I kept telling the refs that it was my injury," Allen said. "I think they understood. I wasn't trying to show anybody up."
It still hasn't been a calendar year since Allen blew out his left knee on a showboating dunk after the whistle. For a player whose game depends on explosion, the comeback so far has been pretty remarkable. While he isn't there yet mentally, he is, according to Doc Rivers, pretty much there physically.
"I'm coming along, slowly but surely," Allen said. "I've got to stick with the strength and conditioning guys and keep doing what I'm doing. Those last two dunks were at the same basket where I hurt my knee last season, so I was a little worried. But I have to get past that. Keep working hard."
The Celtics are counting on Allen to be a spark off the bench and, as we've already seen, a reliable fill-in when a starter (in this case, Ray Allen) goes down. There are times when Tony Allen looks like the Tony Allen of old and there are times when he's so understandably hesitant that you wonder how much further he has to go.
"It's the toughest thing to go through as an athlete," Rivers said. "The MRIs can tell you that you are fine. The doctors can tell you that you are fine. But you still don't believe it."
Yesterday Rivers elaborated on where he sees Allen as the one-year anniversary of the injury (Jan. 10) approaches.
"It's a process," Rivers said. "It doesn't matter how many people tell you how healthy you are. You have to play yourself through it and, at some point, you'll convince yourself. The only way that happens is out on the floor. Practices are important, but games are where it's at. Physically, he's actually fine. Mentally, he's probably at 65 percent, 70 percent at best."
Tony Allen has appeared in 21 of the 24 games, averaging nearly 16 minutes. He missed the three games because of a thigh bruise suffered Nov. 24 in Charlotte when he was kneed by Primoz Brezec. The knee hasn't been a concern, although Allen still wears a brace.
Rivers admitted after the loss to Detroit that he should have used Allen more than five minutes. The coach said that with Ray Allen coming back after missing two games, he wanted to keep the veteran on the floor as much as possible. Tony Allen went 23 minutes against the Bulls, with 12 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals. But what many will remember from the game was witnessing those three breakaways.
"The first one was a layup," Rivers said. "The second was a semi-dunk. The third one, he exploded. If he'd had a fourth, he might have laid it in again. You never know with him. But I know what he's going through. It's tough. I was landing on one leg instead of two and I didn't know it until I saw it on film. The doctors told me, 'You keep doing that, you'll tear the other knee.' You end up doing things you don't even know you're doing."
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It should be interesting to see how the Orlando Magic come out for tonight's game (6:30 p.m. start). After getting crushed by 19 at home Friday by the Jazz, Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy lit into his players. "There's not one guy out there, not one guy [who] could compete with the guy he was playing against, not one guy. I'm not saying they don't have the ability to, but they could not," Van Gundy said. "Not Dwight [Howard]. Not anybody. We had a team-wide effort of guys getting their butts kicked. And we have a lot of guys right now that are OK with that as long as they get their numbers. It's probably going to continue until we get some guys who want to win." Rivers already was aware of the rant and said, "When you get stung like that by the coach, when he challenges [your] toughness and all that, we know they're going to come in and try to show us all that. So we have to be prepared." The Magic are one of three teams in the East with a winning road record (13-4) and a losing home record (5-6). The others are Indiana and New Jersey.