Allen has been Lakers' nightmare
LOS ANGELES -- Celtics guard Ray Allen has a ritual to help him fall asleep on those nights after games when he's still too keyed up to let Morpheus work his magic.
"I have America's Funniest Home Videos on my TIVO," he says. "I have about 10 episodes. I put them on before I go to sleep and laugh hysterically for about 20 minutes. It changes your whole mood regardless of what happens. You go to sleep laughing, and you have a good sleep."
Allen has been anything but amusing for the Lakers so far in these Finals. One might even say he's been a nightmare. The 6-5 sharpshooter is averaging a team-high 20.0 points, to go with 6.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.25 steals. Thanks in large part to his all-around contributions, the Celtics are up 3-1 with a chance to close out L.A. and clinch the NBA title in Sunday night's Game 5.
"I'm just trying to be a playmaker on the floor and make things happen for the team," Allen says. "That's what I'm most proud of. Not just being a scorer. I like to think I can do multiple things, and make an impact in a lot of ways."
For Allen, it's all about doing whatever it takes to help the Celtics hang a 17th championship banner. Like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the eight-time All-Star has waited a long time for a shot at a ring. Now in his 12th NBA season, Allen knows the window of opportunity is closing.
Allen won't say it, but he also has to be motivated by the many skeptics who predicted he would get torched by Kobe Bryant in these Finals. Never known for being a great defender, the 32-year-old Allen had angered Bryant with some critical comments four years ago. Throw in the fact that Allen had been mired in a dreadful shooting slump earlier in the playoffs, and it looked as if Bryant would win the shooting guard matchup handily.
But like Jesus Shuttlesworth, the fictional character he played in that Spike Lee film several years ago, Allen has shown in these Finals that He's [still] Got Game. He has nailed three-pointers, crashed the boards, dished the ball, and come up with some of the biggest plays -- including a sensational reverse layup at the end of Game 4 that proved to be the backbreaker. Perhaps most important, as the principal defender on Bryant, he has helped limit the MVP to just 26.8 points per game (on 43.2 percent shooting) -- well below his overall playoff averages.
"He's never been known as a defender, and he's been fantastic in this series guarding Kobe," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
"In past years I never thought of Ray as a great defender," added Pierce. "But when you look at the top scorers in the league you never think of [them] as great defenders because they're so great offensively. I think that's been the case with Ray. I think since being here he's been more than a capable defender."
From his days at UConn and through his early NBA seasons with the Bucks and Sonics, Allen has always been a hard worker and team player. It has been no different at these Finals. Despite distractions ranging from his good pal Lee sitting courtside in a Yankees jersey (rooting for the Lakers, no less) to having his mom, sister and a dozen other relatives coming to visit him in Boston, he remains a consummate pro.
Before Game 3 Allen took a taxi to Staples Center because the team bus wouldn't get him there early enough for him to get some extra shots in beyond the 150 jumpers he typically puts up before games. He later explained that he wanted to make sure he adjusted to the odd lighting at Staples, which has a darker background than most other NBA arenas. Allen is also one of the few big-time NBA stars who is always out in front of his locker, available to the media, before games.
"All year long our goal has been to win the championship," he says. "I'm just trying to do whatever I can to help us get it."
Allen's silky smooth shooting stroke has defined his NBA career, but his veteran leadership and poise might turn out to be his biggest overall contribution in these Finals. At times he has almost single-handedly kept the Celtics in games with big shots or offensive rebounds or hustle plays. Allen also has been the most consistent member of the Big Three, scoring 19, 17, 25 and 19 points, respectively, over the first four games.
While Pierce would still have to be considered the likely Finals MVP, it is not unimaginable that Allen could get in the mix with another strong showing in Game 5.
Not that Allen seems to care about such individual awards. He knows that winning an NBA ring is what really matters. This is an NBA player, after all, who actually reads books about things other than sports in his spare time -- which helps explain his choice of America's Funniest Home Videos as his preferred method of late-night sleep aid.
"I read a book a long time ago, and [the author] wrote that laughter releases [chemicals] in the brain," Allen explained. "Basically, the guy's point was that if you laugh, you live longer. He uses examples of all the great comedians who lived to be 80, 90 years old because they had humor in their lives. Guys like George Burns, Bob Hope...
"He said, 'make sure you laugh before you go to sleep. Don't take things too seriously.'"
For Allen, these have been good times indeed. Pretty soon he'll be able to rest easy knowing that his NBA career is complete.