- Heat vs. Spurs: Finals Hub
MIAMI – Boston has the Stanley Cup Finals, Ray Allen has the NBA Finals. And if that’s something less than a fair bargain for the more basketball-specific among that city’s sports fans, well, it’s better than the alternative of TD Bank Garden dark and closed for the summer.
This has turned out to be a tough Finals for folks in Boston regardless, what with Tim Duncan – the prize who got away in the 1997 draft lottery – showing up for his fifth shot at a ring in the same time their beloved Celtics have participated twice and won once. But the Allen wound is more fresh and, in a sense, deeper.
When the veteran shooting guard and league’s all-time 3-point scorer signed with the Celtics’ latest hated rival, the Miami Heat, 11 months ago, the blow was delivered by a lottery ball randomly popping to the top of a hopper. It was Allen actively rejecting a bigger contract (two years, $12 million). It was Allen knowingly, consciously and some have characterized as bitterly swapping Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Southies for South Beach, Ubuntu for Udonis.
After so much success for that group in green – the 2008 title, seven more Finals games in 2010, a .692 winning percentage in the regular season – Allen’s departure saw the Celtics barely break .500 in 2012-13 (41-40), qualify as a seventh seed and exit the playoffs in the first round against New York.
Allen, meanwhile, slipped smoothly into life and success with the Heat. He played in 79 games and, after a lifetime of starting, came off the bench in every one of them with no ill effect on the quality of his play. At age 37, he averaged 10.9 points, shot 44.9 percent overall and 41.9 percent from the arc. His points, rebounds and assists per minute were little-changed from his production in Boston and he led his new team in 3-pointers attempted and made.
He was a vital part of Miami’s attention-grabbing 27-game winning streak, the second-longest in league history, and status as this postseason’s No. 1 seed overall. Now he’s back in The Finals, one more trip than Pierce or Garnett, possibly one more ring if the Heat outlast the Spurs.
Right about now, if they haven’t already, Celtics faithful might want to click elsewhere. Some of what follows is sure to hurt:
“Just pure joy. This is my third time and this feeling never gets old,” Allen said of getting back to the NBA’s championship round.
“The first three rounds, you feel like, there’s that sense of the season being so long and so taxing, you feel everything in your body. But once you get to this level, it’s where the true fun starts. You see what you’re playing for. This is where, in between your days, you sit back and reminisce about how far you’ve come, this stage you’re playing on, how far you’ve been away from it, watching it as a young kid. Now being here, you’re in the moment. You get to enjoy it a little more.”
Allen hasn’t intentionally rubbed salt into the wound of his departure from Boston when he’s met with the media here so far. No visible rancor over his apparent icy relations with point guard Rajon Rondo or the offense he took at losing his starting spot to Avery Bradley.
Still, he has made it clear how satisfied he is with the results. Initially he backed away from the word “vindication,” before finally embracing it.
“I knew when I assessed the situation at the time, every player going into free agency wants to win. And as you get older, you try to see everything,” Allen said. “You try to look at the situation a little bit closer. You step out on the limb every summer and a guy says, ‘Am I going to go to this team or that team?’ For me, I guess there is a little bit of vindication because being here is what my whole hope was of doing last summer.”
Coming off the bench, as part of a fleet of 3-point threats with Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers and even old Seattle teammate Rashard Lewis, Allen’s minutes dipped from 34.0 last season to 25.8. His shots in absolute terms were at a career low 8.2, but on a per-minute basis, he got up the most 3-pointers since his second season in Boston.
Allen’s touch dipped through the first three rounds (36.5 percent of his 3-pointers) but in Game 1 Thursday against San Antonio, he hit three of four. Over the last six games he is shooting 44.4 percent from out there. And he coolly made three late free throws after Danny Green fouled him at a then-critical time.
This whole, long season has been a period of adjustment technically for a player whose game is based on precision. The distance from the arc to the rim hasn’t changed but all sorts of angles and timing have.
“Just knowing where the scoring zones for me were going to be,” Allen said of adapting to the Heat attack fueled by James and Wade. “I was used to certain shots at certain times and I just had to re-think how those shots were coming. A lot in the corners. Just paying attention to the game a little bit more.”
Allen has a player option to return next season for $3 million and said he hasn’t decided what he will do. And he doesn’t spend much time thinking about what he’s already done. Or to whom he’s done it.
“Each time you enjoy ’em,” he said of The Finals. “They mean the same. The goal is always the same. Once you want to win, it’s hard to say you want to win MORE. You have to live in the moment and make sure you have no regrets.”
Allen has no regrets. Boston fans have the Bruins.