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Hit and miss

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff February 5, 2009 05:59 AM

You might think it would be impossible for a Springfield-bound basketball player who has made eight All-Star teams, averages over 20 points per game, and ranks second all-time in 3-pointers made and 10th in free throw percentage to be overlooked or underappreciated while still an active player.

Yet for the Celtics’ admirable Ray Allen, that is the case. At least, it is this season. As the Philadelphia 76ers so harshly learned at the buzzer Tuesday night, the elegant 33-year-old shooting guard has been the glue of the defending champions as they have methodically built a 41-9 record. And yet the appropriate accolades and appreciation too often seem to elude him. So consider this our honest effort to give credit where credit is due, for the Boston Celtics franchise would not be this reborn juggernaut without his essential — and apparently, to some, subtle — contributions.

For those of us who have been fortunate enough to watch his steady-to-stellar play this season, it was disheartening to learn of the latest and most noticeable oversight: his exclusion from the Eastern Conference All-Star roster, which was finalized last week when the reserves were announced. In the long run, it may be a blessing — the more rest and respites the Celtics’ stars can get during the regular season, the better they should be in May and June — but it can be taken as nothing less than a slight, for the Celtics’ most efficient star absolutely deserves the honor after all he has done and meant this season.

Kevin Garnett is the heart of the Celtics, Paul Pierce is the ego, and of course both deserve to be feted in Phoenix. But the argument can be made that Allen, the other piece of the “New Big 3,” deserves to be there as much as if not more than either of them, and his exclusion for the likes of Devin Harris, Rashard Lewis, and Joe Johnson is borderline shameful. If there is any justice at all, he will be the replacement for Orlando’s Jameer Nelson, who may miss the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury. But even a possible late inclusion doesn’t detract from the fact that Allen should have been there in the first place.

If the coaches who selected the subs had looked at anything besides the scoring leaders, they might realize Allen is actually playing better than he did a season ago, which is essentially unheard of for a player at his age and position. Allen’s most similar historical comparisons according to databaseBasketball.com include the likes of Hersey Hawkins and Mitch Richmond, both of whom declined rapidly in their early 30s. Shooting guards tend to age like NFL running backs, and it is beyond rare for a shooting guard to put up better numbers at age 33 than at 32.

Yet Allen is doing just that, and although his numbers aren’t staggering, they’re impressive nonetheless, especially in the context of the Celtics’ selflessness on offense. He’s averaging 18.0 points per game as of Tuesday, up from 17.1 a season ago and second on the club only to Pierce’s 19.2. He is shooting a sensational 49.7 percent from the field, the most accurate marksmanship of his career. (He shot 48 percent for the 2000-01 Milwaukee Bucks and has never shot higher than 46.2 percent in any other season.) And he has not missed a single game, which may be his most impressive feat of all.

Allen has admitted that he never felt quite right a year ago after having surgery on both ankles during the previous off-season, and he does look quicker and more spry this year to the naked eye. Of course, some of that is perception — there is absolutely no wasted motion in any part of his game, particularly his effortless jump shot, and sometimes his grace works against him. There’s a reason Pierce refers to him as “Ray Obama” — the last time he was at all flustered on the basketball court, he was answering to “Jesus” while Denzel Washington talked smack.

The man is polished, and so is the player. The game often looks so easy for Allen, which makes it easy to forget that it hasn’t always been the case. When the New Big Three came together last season, Allen made the most individual sacrifices, particularly on the offensive end. Remember, he was coming off a season with the Sonics during which he averaged 26.4 points per game while essentially having the basketball in his hands anytime he wanted it. Suddenly, he was often relegated to third option/spot-up shooter. It had to be frustrating, and yet he never publicly peeped about his role or wanting more shots. Instead, he fully committed to the defensive end of the court for the first time in his career while acting as a mentor to the younger players, particularly the headstrong Rajon Rondo. He could not have handled the situation more professionally.

But it is a touch ironic that Allen was an All-Star last year — as an injury replacement for Washington’s Caron Butler — in what was simply not as good a season as this one has been through 49 games. Of course, you might recall that Allen was the star of that game, scoring 28 points, including 14 in a two-minute, 30-second stretch in the fourth quarter of the East’s victory. You also might recall that LeBron James was named the Most Valuable Player.

Once again, Ray Allen didn’t get his due. But to the man’s eternal credit, he just keeps draining jump shots and plugging away, all the way to the Hall of Fame. Assuming those who make such decisions have the good sense to let him in, that is.

OT columnist Chad Finn is a sports reporter for Boston.com and can be reached at finn@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.
Tony Massarotti is a Boston Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. He is currently spotlighted as a featured columnist on Boston.com.
Tom Caron serves as studio host for NESN's Boston Red Sox coverage.
Bob Lobel was a WBZ-TV sportscaster for 29 years, anchoring more than 10,000 sports reports.
Chad Finn is a sports reporter at the Globe and founder of the Touching All The Bases blog. Before joining the Globe, he was an award winning columnist at the Concord Monitor.

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