Shooter Part 2: The Closer Is Coming

Just read this oustanding piece by Bill Simmons  at ESPN.com (caution: Celtics bias on a hundred thousand trillion) talking about the already scintilating Celtics/Bulls series.  As a Sixers fan, I could care less about the series until my boys upset the Magic or are dutifully wrapped up and sent home after 6 games.  But as a basketball fan, it’s been amazing to watch Derrick Rose turn into Man on Fire in Game 1 and The Professional, Ray Allen, knock ’em out the box with the game winning three in the face of Joakim Noah to end Game 2.

I talked about in my piece on my all-time favorite NBA shooters a few months back, but Ray Allen is probably my favorite pure shooter of all time and one of my top 10 favorite ballers ever.  You gotta respect a guy who, to quote Larry Brown (ugh), plays the right way–quietly, efficiently, and with almost unmatched greatness for years.  Until Bill Simmons’ column, I had never thought about Ray from a historical standpoint; he’s always been a Hall of Famer in my eyes going back to his years in Seattle.  His recent playoff triumphs are putting him in Reggie Miller territory.  As much as I loved Miller destroying the Knicks and hanging with MJ and the Bulls in the 90s, I still think Ray Ray’s career is more impressive.

Read on as Simmons gives Jesus the nod over Cheryl Miller’s bro in terms of all time greatness:

“I mentioned that the 2008 playoffs and 2008-09 season cemented Allen’s reputation as a Hall of Fame shooting guard, pushing him past the Moncrief/Dumars/Maravich/Monroe group and right next to Reggie Miller historically. A number of readers disagreed, which I expected for the simple reason that Allen is underrated and Miller is overrated. For his nine-season prime (1999-2007), Ray-Ray was remarkably efficient (23-5-4, 45 percent FG, 40 percent 3FG, 90 percent FT) and rarely tried anything he couldn’t do. If he were a baseball player, he would have been Wade Boggs — not a franchise guy, but someone with a few elite skills (milking pitch counts, getting on base, stroking singles and, in Boggs’ case, rarely missing a game) that made him a genuine asset as long as you surrounded him with other quality players.

Miller had that luxury; Allen did not. Allen played on two contenders in his prime. His 2000-01 Bucks were so alarmingly screwed by the officiating against Philly — please, Google “Bucks Sixers 2001 playoffs officials” and you will see what I mean — that the ’01 Eastern Conference Finals became the forgotten older brother to the infamous Kings-Lakers series a year later in the NBA’s family of Series We Kinda-Sorta Rigged. In 18 playoff games, Allen averaged a 25-6-4 with blistering 3-point shooting (48 percent). Four years later, he averaged a 27-4-4 in 11 playoff games for an inspiring 2005 Sonics team that severely tested the Spurs (who won the title two rounds later). How would we remember Allen if he thrived on Miller’s Indiana teams from 1994-2004? Flipping that around, how would we remember Reggie had he spent his prime relying on low-post scoring, shot-blocking and rebounding from Ervin Johnson, Jerome James, Predrag Drobnak, Armon Gilliam, Tractor Traylor, Scott Williams, Reggie Evans, Jason Caffey, Danny Fortson, Vitaly Potapenko, Nick Collison, Johan Petro, Robert Swift and a washed-up Anthony Mason … which, by the way, was the entire line of power forwards and centers who played with Ray Allen in his prime?

Oh baby, I'm a thug

Allen made nine All-Star games (and counting); Miller made five in a weaker era. Allen made a second-team All-NBA; Miller never did. Statistically, Allen is better in every respect — slightly better scorer, slightly better shooter, even percentages in every other category — although Miller was definitely more durable. Miller had more big moments but played in more big games; everyone conveniently forgets about all the crappy ones he had. Like his unequivocal stink bomb in Game 7 of the ’94 Eastern Conference Finals. Like his no-show Game 7 of the ’95 Eastern Conference Finals (a 32-point blowout). Like how he disappeared in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the ’98 Eastern Conference Finals against an aging Bulls team that was running on fumes. He never had a consistently scorching run like Allen did in the 2001 playoffs or even in the 2008 NBA Finals. His two iconic performances (the 25-point quarter and the eight-point miracle finish) both happened at MSG, pushing it to a different level of significance, and if you think we’d remember him as fondly if those two games happened in Orlando or Detriot, you’re crazy.

The point isn’t to demean Miller’s credentials; I loved watching him and he’s the only guard from the ’90s who truly relished going against Jordan. His ability to raise his game in big moments remains his defining trait. Allen possesses that same quality but rarely displayed it because he toiled away on so many piddling teams. At his peak, Allen attacked Kobe with the same relish that Miller went at Jordan. He scared the hell out of countless fans in the last minute of big games. He’s one of the best coolers (my term for guys who close out wins on the line) that we’ve ever seen. If he stays healthy for two or three more years and plays at a level comparable to the past two seasons — and gets those belated playoff reps to boot — “Ray vs. Reggie” won’t even be an argument anymore. Ray Allen will have had a better career, whether you want to admit it or not.

Just know that I hated the trade when it happened. We’re giving up the No. 5 pick for a washed-up shooting guard coming off two ankle surgeries? Really? Where is this taking us? I was devastated. I had no idea how talented he was. I had no idea that he takes care of his body as well as anyone — never smoked or drank in his life, stays in fantastic shape, stretches every day — or that his daily work ethic rivals any Celtic we’ve had in my lifetime, including Bird. Because George Karl dissed him publicly at the end of Allen’s Milwaukee run, I had no idea Allen was actually a good guy and a great teammate, someone who would have a profound effect on Rondo’s career. I knew he was a clutch shooter, but until you watch someone day in and day out, you can’t really quantify the feeling of, “We’re down three, we’re on the road, but we’re going to run a play for Ray Allen and he’s going to freaking make this.”

Splash!

Splash!

At age 33, he’s more efficient than ever: 50-plus on 2-pointers, 41 percent on 3s, 95 percent on free throws. He has shown no signs of deterioration at all. Health permitting, he could easily play for three more years at this level and another three in the “tenured clutch guy” role that Miller perfected earlier this decade. And if you don’t think his teammates respect Allen, take it from someone who watched Paul Pierce battle a Hero Complex for 10 solid years: For someone with such a healthy end-of-the-game ego like Pierce to willingly defer to a teammate at the end of games, that can only mean that teammate is special.

And now, Allen holds a wonderful Bulls-Celtics series in his hands. The champs will fall in Round 1 unless Ray Allen comes through. It’s as simple as that. As a Celtics fan, I can only tell you this: When one of the great clutch shooters in recent NBA history holds your immediate playoff destiny in his hands, it’s a good place to be.”

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3 thoughts on “Shooter Part 2: The Closer Is Coming

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