Game 5 belonged to Brandon Bass. He, of the 18-point, season saving third quarter, put one of the world’s most accurate jump shots on display, playing with a confidence that allowed him to frolic through passing lanes on defense and snatch rebounds from his own teammates. Bass was the unlikely hero; the much needed savior. It is he who stepped up, and he who deserves to wear the crown until Game 6 tips off on Wednesday night.
But Bass will be the first to tell you he didn’t do it alone. The Sixers are a very good defensive basketball team that’s more than capable of using their athletic advantage on most opponents, stripping away something they’re comfortable with and like to rely on. When they do, windows open, and big games hinge on whether or not unsung fillers of void are able to step up and climb through. Even though he hasn’t napalmed a crowd in quite some time, Ray Allen’s shot remains a legitimate strength for this Celtics team, and the Sixers have not forgotten.
It’s been stressed time and time again that when he’s on the court, Allen holds the defense’s attention in the palm of his hand, like a swimsuit model scampering through a frat house. All eyes are on him at all times, and forgetting he’s there could, and probably will, lead to extensive regret. Here are two examples that show just how important Allen can be, even on a 2-7 shooting night.
The first play is a simple one. With Allen in the corner, and Pierce playing dumb on the wing, the Celtics take two of Philadelphia’s defenders right out of the play. The success of the Sixers’ defense is rooted in smart rotations and fabulous help from the weak side. Here, Doc Rivers has placed Ray in a position to neutralize that without exerting any pressure on his brittle ankles. Elton Brand and Jrue Holiday aren’t the same as a five-man swarming unit, and there’s simply no way they can stop Rajon Rondo by themselves. This happened several times throughout the game, but what strikes me about this particular play is how insanely tight Jodie Meeks is playing Allen. As the Celtics run their two man game to perfection, Meeks and Allen stand idly in the corner, looking like two guys patiently waiting in the popcorn line at a movie theatre. This is the respect and fear Ray Allen’s jumper has even when it’s been off for weeks.
The next is a play Kenny Smith highlighted on Inside the NBA. As Rondo attracts the strong side attention, Ray drags Lou Williams from the corner to the wing, giving his teammates more than enough space to operate. The result is Brandon Bass’ 56th dunk of the night.
Monday night, Allen played 20 more minutes than Greg Stiemsma, but scored half as many points. According to the box score, he wasn’t even the most productive “Allen” on the court (LaVoy Allen, Boston’s great unexpected headache, scored 12 points on six perfect shots). It’s been strange to watch Ray struggle in areas where he’s normally a model of perfection. It’s almost like we take them for granted. For crying out loud, he’s shooting 60 percent from the free-throw line! This is RAY ALLEN, we’re talking about. One of the greatest free-throw shooters in the history of basketball. He could shoot free-throws in a gym for five straight hours and miss five or six. Somehow, in these playoffs, he’s missed eight in nine games. It’s made me believe in the existence of Alien life.
Then again, he is human (I think). Even when we’re discussing the greatest to ever do it, a shooter’s touch comes and goes. But here’s where Ray Allen separates himself from most other one-dimensional spot up shooters: He’s one of the game’s purest professionals. If incapable of raining down three-pointers, he finds other ways to contribute, and last night he did just that. The Celtics aren’t running Ray around the baseline through double screens, and a big reason they lost Game 4, I felt, was their insistence on force feeding him in situations where his ankles simply didn’t allow an opening. But on Monday night he made the adjustment; he was spectacular in the tiniest of ways that have most likely already been forgotten.
First I’d like to discuss his defense on Evan Turner. For much of the time these two were on the court, Allen shadowed him, forcing him into uncomfortable shots and making him work for everything he had, on every single possession. Turner attempted 13 shots, tying Brand for the most on his team, but with Allen guarding him he only made one of them, according to Synergy.
Then there was “The Rebound”. A play I’d like to embellish for no defined reason other than I thought it was a great example of someone going outside their normal comfort zone to help a basketball team win a game. Ray plucked one offensive board out of the air in his 33 minutes of play, and the one proved to be quite important.
When it happened, the Celtics trailed by five against a relentless Sixers barrage of shots that never seemed to miss. Boston was doing the doggy paddle as Philadelphia looked to be executing a beautiful butterfly stroke; in order to prevent them from swimming away, at the time, every offensive possession was crucial. Allen read the ball off the rim, darted to enemy territory, and kept the possession alive. (Pierce would eventually end the play with two made free-throws.)
I won’t venture towards hyperbolizing who Ray Allen is and how magnificent his current abilities are at this stage in his Hall of Fame worthy career. He scored five points last night, and missed four three-pointers, a majority of which were wide open and with plenty of time to line up his body. But Monday night was quiet brilliance from a well-mannered man doing his best to help in any way he can. To say the Celtics won Game 5 without his contribution would be to ignore just how valuable this guy continues to be.