Why not just give all the bottle rockets and firecrackers to a pyromaniac, why don’t you? If it’s a holiday weekend in May, or later in June, then it’s Ray Allen’s time to go off, in the parlance. And if an overmatched coach named Frank Vogel insists on trying to defend him with bigger people who can’t stay with him, then Allen will continue to prove at 38 what he did earlier in his 30s and throughout his 20s and back when he was Jesus Shuttlesworth in the movies.
Leave him open, and they will find him in the fourth quarter. Whereupon Allen will fill the basket with not one, not two, not three but four three-pointers, giving the Miami Heat a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals and LeBron James a better shot at fulfilling more of his grandiose boast of “not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven …’’ NBA championships. The Indiana Pacers assuredly won’t be fooled again on the preposterous notion that 6-9, 250-pound David West can keep up with Allen through screens. Still agile and lithe, slippery and cunning, Allen saw a chance to impact history the way he did last year in Game 6 of the Finals, when his three-pointer from the right corner tilted basketball history like few shots of its kind. Had he missed, the San Antonio Spurs would have five titles right now, at least one in each of three decades, while LeBron would be stuck on one. If this shot, in the end, helps propel the Heat to a three-peat, then a man already known as the best long-distance shooter ever also enhances a claim as the best pressure-stakes shooter ever.
Right side, left side, top of the key — what kind of dunce allows him to roam free? “It’s extremely difficult to guard, especially when you’re playing bigs against him, but we haven’t been hurt quite like that (earlier in the series),” Vogel said. “It was a clash in styles, which is what this series is all about. We’ve just got to do a better job.”
Shouldn’t that have been obvious based on the last, oh, 17 years?
“Well, that’s kind of like my territory,” Allen said. “The flow of the game doesn’t come in my direction early in a game. You’re kind of spelling minutes and backing guys up when you first come in. But in the fourth quarter, if a guy is guarding me and just thinks I’m here biding time, I’m not. I’m trying to figure out how I can have an impact.”
It wasn’t out to figure out when West was plodding to keep up. Allen knew exactly how to exploit the mismatch. “Just run him. Run him,” he said. “Even if I don’t get the ball, just run him. If he’s going to come out there guarding me, run him off screens. Just tire him out. I’ve been doing this my whole career. So I’m very tuned up for it. He may be up for the challenge as well. But it’s going to take something away from what he’s doing on the offensive end. It’s like that football mentality. You have to block upfield to get somebody open. It’s going to have some type of effect where it’s helping our offense.
“Confuse him, trick him. If you see me one moment there, I’m going to be somewhere else the next time you turn around.’’
James found him. Norris Cole found him. You could have found Ray Allen, I could have found Ray Allen. “He’s got it going, and we just want to continue to find him,” James said. “I was able to find him for the majority of the shots he had in the fourth, and when you got a hot hand, you just keep going to it.”
Said Erik Spoelstra, whose once-underappreciated prowess in coaching the Heat has given way to considerable respect and admiration: “You can ask anybody in that locker room — there are so many years of pain that (Allen) has caused a lot of us, and it’s great to have him on our side. It’s not just the made baskets. It’s the spacing, the movements and he gives you another layer of the offense.”
So now the Heat have shown they can fall behind 37-22 and not blink. The Pacers still don’t know how to seize the big moment, evidenced by 19 turnovers and foul trouble, and there’s a growing sense that Vogel is the wrong man for a team of wildly erratic performances. Despite Chris Bosh’s continuing inability to deliver when his team needs him most, the Heat keep riding the rejuvenated Dwyane Wade — any more questions about how Spoelstra, expertly, rested him during the regular season? — along with the likes of Cole and even forgotten Rashard Lewis. A three-peat is sacred territory in any sports league, and few teams have chased one while burdened by game-to-game doubt about which players will contribute. Fortunately for Miami peeps, they know James will be there and, at least for now, they know Wade will be there.
And Ray Allen, forevermore.
“This team, we’ve proven to be resilient,’’ he said. “In bad situations, stretches in games when it’s not going right for us, we know how to pick it back up. Very rarely do we get knocked out early in a game. It’s the same thing with a series.”
You know things are good for the Heat when James, rarely demonstrative with his emotions in a game, launches into a wild, screaming, shimmying display. “Nothing makes me happier,’’ he said, “then seeing a teammate have success.’’
Especially when that teammate is the reason a three-peat is possible. Feed the provider, always.