Ray Allen Empowered to Be More Aggressive Off Bench for Celtics

Ray Allen Empowered to Be More Aggressive Off Bench for CelticsRay Allen technically made his return two games ago, but he was not truly back until Saturday.

Allen looked plenty comfortable coming off the bench for the second time in as many games, dropping 19 points to lead all reserves in the Celtics' 86-72 win over the Indiana Pacers. The most-asked question since Avery Bradley shifted into the starting lineup was: How can the Celtics send their best distance shooter to the bench?

The question going forward may be: How can they use him any other way?

At the beginning, Allen had obvious trouble easing into the flow of the game. Keep in mind that this was only the sixth time in his 16-year career that he was coming off the bench, so his tentative 1-for-3 shooting mark in the first quarter should not have been much of a shock.

Each minute Allen was on the floor with the second unit, though, he seemed to grow more comfortable. He got aggressive in the second quarter, taking eight shots, although he still seemed slightly cold and missed all but three of those shots. In the third, he was 0-for-2 in only 5:29 of game action.

In the fourth quarter, it was as though nothing had changed. And nothing really had. Allen played all 12 minutes, going 3-for-5 from beyond the arc and scoring nine points that would have been a game-high if not for Kevin Garnett's 10-point explosion. Starting or not, that sort of production in the final quarter is par for the course for Allen.

If anyone knows what it is like to try to familiarize himself with new teammates from minute to minute, it is Garnett. The stringent substitution pattern Celtics coach Doc Rivers uses to keep Garnett fresh leads to the Big Ticket occasionally sharing floor time with some less-heralded teammates. Like Garnett, Allen seemed freed to more aggressively seek his own shot, rather than defer to Paul Pierce or look to Rajon Rondo to initiate offense.

"He doesn't search for them now," Rivers said. "With the second unit, he's the go-to, him and Kevin."

The Celtics' best five-man unit on Saturday was not the starters, although they were solid enough to justify Rivers' choice to keep Bradley among them. The most effective lineup for the Celtics against the Pacers actually consisted of Garnett, Allen, Bradley, Greg Stiemsma and Sasha Pavlovic, who played together for 10 minutes and were 14 points better than the Pacers in that time.

Seven of the eight field goals that unit scored were assisted, which meant a lineup that did not include Rondo and his 16 straight games with double-digit assists was still able to share the ball.

One game is not enough to declare Ray a success as a sixth man. The Pacers were coming off an emotional win over the Oklahoma City Thunder the night before, so it was understandable for them to have an emotional and physical letdown. Yet they were still the Pacers, owners of the eighth-best field goal percentage defense in the league, and this was a game the Celtics had to win if they want to be considered a player in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Regardless of how Allen enters the game, either at tip-off or late in the first quarter, he will produce. He will stretch defenses with his shooting and run defenders ragged by making them chase him around countless screens. He will not do anything stupid to lose the Celtics games.

The only question may be his fitness, which is a concern even to his coach. If anybody can figure out the correct mixture of stretching, calisthenics, mental exercises or whatever else it takes to keep him ready to bounce off the bench and contribute, chances are Allen can.

"We got him good shots," Rivers said. "I told him, it's going to take a couple games. You're trying to get your legs back. You could see in the second half. He had a breakthrough, and I thought that was terrific."

He was terrific in the fourth quarter, not so much the first quarter. That, of course, is entirely the point.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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