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Back in the swing

Posted by Scott Souza October 23, 2008 05:58 AM

Tony Allen will stress that he is not claiming to be better than James Posey. He is just poised to take on the challenge ofthe former Celtics sixth man’s old job.

When Posey bolted to New Orleans as a free agent this summer, that opened the door for Allen — whose contract option the Celtics had not picked up in June — to return to Boston for a fifth season. It also opened up one of the few roles the defending champs had available: they were suddenly in need of a primary backup at small forward behind Paul Pierce. Already the first option off the bench at shooting guard behind Ray Allen, Tony Allen enters the season as the closest thing the team has to a 25-minute reserve.

“That’s what he was going to be, anyway,” said Doc Rivers of Allen as the main bench option at both wing spots. “He’s capable of doing that. That’s why he’s here.”

After playing extensively in the absence of Pierce and Wally Szczerbiak two years ago, Allen tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He struggled at times last season with the aftereffects of the second major knee surgery of his career and never adapted well to being productive in the limited minutes he saw behind Posey.

But this season, he figures to see ample time off the bench for Pierce and Ray Allen as Rivers tries to limit wear and tear on the pair of 30-something All-Stars.

“It’s all about understanding your role and what this teams needs,” Pierce said. “Tony is a great athlete and can be one of the great defenders in this league, who also has the ability to put the ball in the hole. We’re going to ask Tony to do a lot of things, but he has to understand that it has to come within the team concept.”

The 6-foot-4 swingman said his approach will be similar regardless of position.

“They do a lot of the same things,” he said of the two spots in the Celtics’ scheme. “You are required to run hard in transition. The two guard obviously looks for his shot a bit more.

“But I’m looking at it like if I am the two guard out there with Paul, my job is primarily to get the ball to Paul and rotate off him. If Kevin [Garnett] is in, and I’m at the two, play in-and-out basketball.”

Given Allen’s increased responsibility, Rivers is hoping he doesn’t get carried away in a system that still revolves around Pierce, Garnett, Ray Allen, and the playmaking ability of Rajon Rondo.

“I don’t want him to do anything except be Tony,” the coach said. “Be aggressive, attack the basket, get to the foul line, break down defenses.

“Where he has to improve is that he has to make better decisions. He’s leading us in turnovers right now, and he’s got to cut down those.”

Getting noticed

If there was one player who bettered his rank in the rotation during the preseason, it was second-year guard Gabe Pruitt. Sitting on the roster bubble entering camp, he displayed improved strength and confidence and worked his way into a primary backup point guard role when Rondo went down with an ankle sprain in Friday exhibition game.

Pruitt wound up playing nearly 44 minutes Sunday against the Nets and responded with 11 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists as well as six turnovers.

“He was real mature out there,” said Tony Allen, who shared the backcourt much of the afternoon. “He made some nice plays. Twelve [rebounds] is very impressive.”

Content to watch

As Sam Cassell racked up one DNP after another during the preseason, some speculated that the 16th-year point guard might be entering the assistant coaching ranks a little ahead of schedule. But Cassell insisted — and Rivers concurred — that his spectatorship was by design.

“[It was] the plan,” the 38-year-old said after Sunday’s second-to-last preseason game. “I know the terminology. I know where everybody is supposed to be at. This is easy.”

Cassell said he talked that plan over with Rivers during the preseason. Asked to elaborate on those discussions, Cassell flashed a wide grin and responded: “None of your business.”

Most thoughts of Cassell not being on the roster for banner-raising night dissipated on Monday when the Celtics got down to the mandatory 15-player limit after they requested waivers on Darius Miles.

Scott Souza covers the Celtics for OT and can be reached at ssouza@globe.com

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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
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