Ray Allen doesn't ease back

BOSTON -- Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Friday before Game 3 of his team's Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Atlanta Hawks that there would be no restrictions on Ray Allen in his return to the court after an absence of nearly a month.

He wasn't kidding.

Allen logged a whopping 36 minutes, 51 seconds of floor time while chipping in 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting as Boston topped Atlanta 90-84 in overtime at TD Garden.

The Celtics lead the best-of-seven series, 2-1.

"I'm getting everything I can get out of him each game," Rivers said. "I'm saying that jokingly, but it's somewhat true as well. Tonight, honestly, we needed him. It's amazing the difference when he's on the floor with our spacing, and how much more difficult it is for guys to help" on defense for the other team.

Prior to tipoff Friday, the idea of Allen playing anything more than a 5- or 10-minute stint seemed preposterous. After all, he hadn't played in 25 days while sitting out Boston's last 11 games.

Allen had appeared in only five of the team's last 22 contests (four of those games in reserve roles), logging a mere 161 minutes since his ankle initially flared up in a March 22 win in Milwaukee.

And yet there was Rivers, using Allen as if it were a one-night-only performance.

It probably wasn't, but you can't rule out the possibility. Both Rivers and Allen acknowledged they have no idea how the ankle will respond to Friday's activity, and recent history suggests it might not be too good.

Allen said after the game that his ankle was "achy and mad at me," but suggested he was "in a good place." The question is whether he'll still be in a good place by the time you read this.

Allen endured numerous setbacks in trying to return to the court, most of which were caused by heightened activity that aggravated the bone spurs in his ankle. Last week, Allen admitted he will require surgery sooner than later.

And if the pain had persisted, one can't help but wonder if Allen would have been tempted to go under the knife already. Allen is, after all, a free-agent-to-be, and no one wants to pay for damaged goods. If he had reached a point where he was convinced he would not be able to return this season, surgery may have been the best option.

Heck, when Kevin Garnett asked Allen last week if he thought he'd be able to get back for any part of the Atlanta series, Allen told him, "It's not looking like it."

A workout Monday in Atlanta left him too sore to even warm up for Tuesday's Game 2, but Allen turned a corner midweek, which allowed him to ramp up his activity with a practice Thursday before Friday's return to the court.

"In just the last two days, its been like night and day for me," Allen said. "Being able to get on the floor and move around and shoot, being able to get into my routine. I've been so off routine for the past two months ... you are almost from the outside looking in, trying to be a part of the team and trying not to be in the way.

"Being back on the floor, I felt alive. I felt like I was back in my own skin and it was a great feeling."

Allen checked in to a thunderous ovation with 4:40 remaining in the first quarter. Just 33 seconds later, he peeled off a pair of screens from Paul Pierce and Greg Stiemsma and buried a baseline jumper.

His first shift went for nine minutes and Allen didn't spend much time on the pine the rest of the way, particularly after starting shooting guard Avery Bradley departed with a shoulder injury in the final minutes of the third quarter.

It was one thing for Allen just to be back on the floor. It was another for him to contribute, scoring all but six of the Celtics' bench points. (Mickael Pietrus accounted for the rest with a pair of trifectas.)

"Just having him out there really picked us up because we haven't seen Ray in a jersey in so long," captain Paul Pierce said. "Just having him out there, you heard the reaction from the crowd when he checked into the game. Stuff like that brings so much energy to the ballclub.

"To have a guy that's so vital come out there and give us a big lift, it's huge having him out there, especially tonight with Avery going down."

After missing much of the 2009 postseason while dealing with a knee injury, Garnett seems to understand what it means for Allen to get back on the floor at this stage of the season.

"As you get older, you definitely understand being in that position, and we've been praying for him, and today in walkthrough, it was like, 'What are you doing out here?' and he was like, 'I'm going to give it a go,'" Garnett said. "So it was just inspirational, it was good. I think he lit the building up with the energy and stuff, so it was good to see the fans appreciate that. That's what's up."

Allen's reward (like the rest of his exhausted teammates) is a day off on Saturday. Rivers might even change the locks at the practice facility. " I don't want Ray in the gym," Rivers said, "because he would do something -- he would shoot or something."

The Celtics want to save that shooting for when it actually matters. They got 37 minutes out of him Friday night and wouldn't mind getting 37 more on Sunday.