Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Importance of Ray Ray

In Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night it was abundantly clear that one team was ready to play and one team was not. The Los Angeles Lakers were ready and proceeded to crush the Boston Celtics 102-89. The 13-point win is misleading as the Celtics never really had a chance after the Lakers went on a 13-6 run to end the first half. Once the Lakers had a comfortable lead, they cruised the rest of the way to a relatively easy win.

During that run in the first half, Boston's Ray Allen picked up his third personal foul. Ray Allen ended with five personal fouls on the night. The foul trouble limited him to only 27 minutes and he was never able to get going. Without Allen, the Celtics were unable to stretch the Laker's defense and L.A. just collapsed on Kevin Garnett inside and limited Rajon Rondo's driving ability.

If Boston is going to have any chance of tying the series tonight they need Allen to get going early. He is one of the best shooters in NBA history and after watching Game 1 he might be the most important player in Boston's offense. Rondo is one of the best dribble drive point guards in the league and Paul Pierce is a great scorer who can create for himself. However, if Allen is not hitting shots on the outside the Celtics have little chance to win.

In Boston's 6 losses in this year's playoffs Allen is averaging 13.16 points per game on around 40% shooting. In Boston's 12 playoff wins Allen is averaging 18.16 and shooting over 47% from the field. Boston is also 6-2 in this year's playoffs when Allen hits 3 or more 3 pointers. So Boston needs to get Allen's shot going early and often.

The dilemma that the Celtics face is keeping Allen out of foul trouble. It's going to be hard if he continues to guard Kobe Bryant. I have a feeling the Celtics will throw different defenders at Kobe in Game 2 to eliminate foul trouble from any one player. Boston knows that stopping Kobe is impossible. However they cannot afford to let Kobe get to the free throw line as much as they did in Game 1. The key for Boston to get back into this series is to keep Allen's fouls at a minimum and get his shot going. If Allen can get his shot going early it will open up things down low for Garnett and lead to easier drives for Pierce and Rondo.

Allen is one of those great players where one doesn't realize how important he is until he's gone. He's always been a quiet star and consummate pro. He led the Milwaukee Bucks to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2000-2001. The Bucks haven't won a playoff series since trading him in 2003. He's a free agent this summer and despite turning 35 this summer he will still demand a lot of attention from teams needing a sharpshooter (pretty much every team in the league).

When people think about the great shooting guards in the post-Jordan era the names that come to mind are Kobe and Iverson (both of whom were drafted in 1996, the same year as Allen) along with Dwayne Wade now. Allen may get overlooked at times in history, but his impact is still as important now as it was back in 1996.

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