Allen spins his wheels, stuck in neutral
It is the mystery of the Celtics' playoff run.
What happened to Ray Allen? Can the Celtics win the NBA championship with the Big 2 1/3?
The Celtics stuffed the Detroit Pistons, 88-79, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals last night, but once again, Allen's jump shot was MIA. He made 3 of 10 shots from the floor: All of his makes were layups. Allen did not connect on a jump shot.
He could feel the crowd pulling for him, trying to will the ball through the basket when he launched from the perimeter.
"They're wondering why it's not going in - just like I am," said the ever-classy Allen.
You no doubt remember Ray Allen. He's one of the great pure shooters of all time. Smooth as hardened wax. Averaged 26.4 points per game just one year ago. Almost MVP of this year's All-Star Game. Card-carrying member of Boston's vaunted New Three.
When Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Allen sat down for a group interview with ESPN, the players were asked which one they'd like to see take the last shot in a big game. Pierce and Garnett both said, "Ray." (Allen said, "The open man.")
In Game 7 against the Cavaliers Sunday, Allen wasn't even on the court for most of the fourth quarter. He'd lost his job to Eddie House. He'd shot himself to the bench. Brick by brick.
Allen connected on 33 percent of his shots in the conference semifinals, scoring a mere 9.3 points per game. Overall, he shot 38 percent in the first 14 playoff games. Now he's at 30 percent in Round 3.
Watching Allen miss wide-open shots and/or disappear is a little shocking. It not as bad as witnessing Willie Mays with the Mets in the 1973 World Series, but it's on the same path. It's a little like watching David Ortiz try to hit in the first few weeks of the 2008 baseball season. Ray looks lost. He looks like a man suffering a crisis of confidence.
It's a strange place for Ray Allen. His shot is his game. Shooters are not supposed to lose their confidence. Shooters always think the next shot is going in the basket. So why does Ray suddenly look like Jean Van de Velde on 18 at Carnoustie in the 1999 British Open?
Theories are legion . . . Ray is too old (32) . . . When you are a shooter, the legs go first, and Ray's legs are shot . . . The double ankle surgeries finally caught up with him . . . It's much harder to get open in the playoffs . . . Family issues are affecting his game (a convoluted murder plot involving Allen's father-in-law).
At Monday's practice, Allen said, "Personally, it's been tougher than anything I've ever seen. Just looking back on the times we've played Cleveland throughout the year and in the series. I just think they did everything they could to try to take away anything I had. They made it tough for me to create any type of rhythm. So kudos to their game plan - they made it tough on a lot of us."
Tossing Rajon Rondo under the Fung Wah, Allen added, "He's the point guard, and I think he has to become more aware of just getting me more easier looks. The whole team does."
Allen got a few looks in the first half last night . . . nothing. He even heaved an airball from international waters.
"Taking that shot, I've made it a thousand times," he said. "I had some good looks. After they didn't go in, I decided to drive to the basket. Make some free throws."
In this series, Allen is matched up against Rip Hamilton, who succeeded him at the University of Connecticut as Jim Calhoun's shooting guard. Allen played the gracious host when Hamilton came to Storrs as a high school recruit.
"He didn't stay with me, but he came up a couple of times and went to a couple of games," recalled Allen. "I took him around. I think the big thing then was whether I was staying or not. He would have given up a lot of playing time. But either way, it worked out for him."
Hamilton scored 15 points in Game 1, making 5 of 13 shots.
"I need to beat him and stop him for us to win," said Allen.
There were no baskets for Ray in the second half. He attempted only three shots after intermission, all misfires.
"Today I feel more free out there than I have felt," he said. "I had some rhythm. I'm just looking forward to the next game."
The fans will be with him tomorrow night. Like Ray Allen, they know that sooner or later, the shots have to fall if the Celtics are going to win banner No. 17.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.