For nearly 16 full NBA seasons, Ray Allen has glided across lacquered hardwood with a gracefulness that belies the true physical toll the sport inflicts on ones body. In his youth, when he still sported a fade and was known by some more for being Jesus Shuttlesworth than Walter Ray Allen, he would just as easily embarrass someone with a poster dunk (he was in a dunk contest, you know) as he would with a pure-as-gold three with a hand in his face.
Ray Allen is pure. He was built to play the sport of basketball, mostly by a work ethic that some might say fits all the classic signs of obsessive compulsive disorder. His game has evolved into much less slashing and much more shooting because, as we are all well aware (or will be… trust me on that) time stops for no one. The ugly march forward spares no soul, not even one who has created a body built to resist its grip. Like water slowly polishing stones along the shore line, the passing years have stripped dimensions away from Ray Allen’s game.
Whether it is simply declining skills, the dastardly lockout schedule, injuries, or some combination of those three, Ray Allen has found himself a bit lost in the Celtics offense. Early on, the Celtics relied on him to be their primary threat because he was in shape. That couldn’t be said about everyone on the team. Slowly, as the team worked Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett back into their roles, Ray’s production slid. With KG a step slow and no one else capable of setting him a proper pick, Ray was essentially just keeping himself in shape by running from sideline to sideline.
Meanwhile, it was becoming clear that Ray Allen’s previously adequate defense could no longer be described as such. His ballhandling became an adventure and his passing wasn’t going to earn him any invitations to any skills competitions. Then came an ankle injury, and a time for reflection.
The veracity of this next part of the story is up for some debate. The story we’re told is Ray, realizing he was doing little more than floating along for seven or eight minutes to start the game, went to head coach Doc Rivers and suggested he do something he had never regularly done: come off the bench. Rivers, having seen some of the same things, agreed and would turn to his starter in Allen’s absence, Mickael Pietrus, and anoint him as the Celtics’ starting two-guard. Of course, Pietrus suffered a concussion, Avery Bradley stepped in, and some weird chemical reaction ensued that would create a resurgent Celtics monster that follows the same attack plan as a pride of lions: go for the throat early, and then wait for the inevitable ending.
That might be a bit of a fairy tale, though, as there are more than a few background whispers that Allen isn’t necessarily fond of the move. He’ll never tell you that, though. At least he won’t tell you that for a while. But whether he went to Doc Rivers or it was the other way around, the deed is done. Avery Bradley is Rajon Rondo’s new backcourt running mate, and it’s paying dividends. And what makes Allen so great, and what makes the tone of this piece what it is, is Allen’s willingness to do something he may very well not like. Beyond that, it’s his desire to excel at that role that makes him special.
Ray Allen is a Hall of Famer. There is little doubt about that. And just as gracefully as he carried himself throughout his career as a starter, Ray has been graceful in his acceptance of his new role. When Bradley was celebrating his sixth birthday somewhere in Tacoma, Washington, Allen was 13 games into his rookie season with the Milwaukee Bucks. Allen most certainly could have pulled rank and seemed justified doing it.
He didn’t, though, because that’s not who he is. And, please pardon the cliche here, he knows it’s more about who finishes games than who starts them. The experiment has worked so far, with the Celtics uncharacteristically (for this season, anyway) jumping out to big first quarter leads thanks in no small part to a two-headed defensive attack at the top of the key with Bradley and Rondo. The Celtics have also reversed a trend of second quarter meltdowns recently, using huge second frames to bury some pretty good opponents. Then, even after some third quarter difficulties, the Celtics counter with Ray Allen down the stretch to hit some big shots and keep comebacks at bay.
Its “so far, so good” in Boston right now, and its mostly thanks to Ray Allen. His willingness to do what’s needed is a testament to his greatness, and a lesson for some of the petulant little brats trying to fill his size 15’s when he leaves. I chose the wording the headline carefully, because this is not a graceful exit for Allen. He is simply entering a new chapter in his career. Maybe it will add years where there wouldn’t have been years before the switch. Or maybe he’ll decide sooner rather than later that he’s had enough. No one knows that yet. Probably not even Ray.
But it is graceful. And that’s all that Ray has ever been.