BOSTON -- With 31 seconds remaining in Wednesday's tilt between the Celtics and Pistons, Ray Allen had registered only five points, missing six of the seven shots he had hoisted, including a pair of potential game-changing 3-pointers. Maybe more uncharacteristically, Allen had also missed back-to-back free throws in the fourth quarter.
It was without question his worst shooting performance in an otherwise sizzling month of January. But with the scores tied at 82, Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn't hesitate to draw up a play for Allen out of a timeout.
Allen rewarded his coach's confidence by connecting on a 21-foot jumper with 24.5 seconds to play, lifting Boston to an 86-82 triumph at the TD Garden.
"I've just shot the ball too many times," Allen said. "Like, I don't question going to the bathroom, I don't question eating. It's just that simple for me, like going out every day. If I close my eyes, I can make a good bit of shots. Sometimes you just have to look at the other team and tip your hat to them. They've done a great job of kind of running me off the shot, trying to disrupt my rhythm, whatever it may be. The beautiful thing is, I've got other guys out there that can make shots, that can make plays. So I never stress about it, I just stay ready and figure out whenever that next shot is coming. I'll be ready to knock it down."
On the pivotal play, Allen fed the ball to Rajon Rondo at the top of the key, and immediately took off towards the baseline with Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey in hot pursuit. Up top, Paul Pierce set a screen on Rondo's right side, and Rondo worked his way around it while advancing towards the right wing. Pierce flared back towards the left wing, but Rondo knew where he wanted to go with the ball.
Allen streaked along the baseline towards the right corner and, as Rondo delivered the ball, the 35-year-old shooting guard, seemingly in one motion, caught it, turned, squared up, and fired. Like so many times before, the ball found nothing but the bottom of the net and the result was an 84-82 Boston lead (the shot was originally ruled a 3-pointer, but overturned on video review soon after).
"Yeah, [Allen's] hit a lot of big shots," said Rivers. "It was more than him as the option. He was the first option on the play. And then Paul was the second, on the flare. No, Ray just makes shots, you know? He's one of those guys, he can go 0 for 10; you know the one guy that believes he's going to make it is Ray. And the second group is our team. When we drew it up, you could tell, [the Celtics players] thought it would work and they went with it. It was great."
Stuckey did a credible job of sticking with Allen as he weaved his way to the right corner, but Glen Davis set a mean screen just outside of the painted area on the right side that gave Allen the paper-thin bit of separation that he needed to get his shot off.
"It's almost a slight glance," Allen said of how he knew he was open. "Once I come around the bottom I can see [Stuckey], kind of where he is, and if he's not up on me, then he's dead. We have a saying: 'Hand down, man down.'"
Wednesday night's bout was the Celtics' 10th game in the month of January, and over the previous nine games, Allen had shot a stellar 57.8 percent from the field and a remarkable 70 percent from beyond the arc, averaging 20.8 points per game during that span. He entered Wednesday's game coming off of one of his finest shooting performances of the season against the Orlando Magic, finishing with a team-high 26 points on 8-of-11 shooting, including 3-of-4 from deep and 7-of-7 at the free throw line, in a 108-106 triumph.
Against the Pistons, however, Allen and the Celtics suffered from a lack of offensive fluidity for much of the game.
"Early, I had two 3's that were somewhat of a 911 shot, like trying to beat the buzzer, so I think offensively we just weren't in a great rhythm," said Allen. "I missed a layup tonight. It was just a bad rhythm overall for the team and that translated.
"It's all rhythm. That's why you've got to change the game up. When you're not making shots you've got to try and get to the hole. You've got to work the game different ways and that's why I always rely on what my teammates are doing for me out there on the floor. Don't rush the game, just kind of let it come to you and tonight it didn't really come the way I wanted it to. That one shot, that's all it took."
Allen's certainly no stranger when it comes to taking (and making) big shots late in games. On Monday against the Magic, with the Celtics trailing 101-99 with 2:16 to play, Allen took a Rondo feed in the left corner and buried his third 3-pointer of the game, giving Boston a pivotal advantage. After Wednesday's theatrics were added to his list of late-game accomplishments, Celtics captain Paul Pierce had nothing but praise for Allen.
"He's such a great player, such a clutch player," said Pierce. "I can't even describe being out there with him. I love playing with him. He takes so much pressure off of me, Kevin [Garnett], [and] Rondo, when you got a guy you can go to. Me and Kevin remember days when we would get the ball every time down in the fourth quarter on our respective teams when we weren't winning. Now, you got a situation, you got guys who can come through in the clutch. It's just such a relief when you got guys who can make baskets for us."
Greg Payne is a student intern for ESPNBoston.com