Allen has hit both daggers and prayers in the playoffs, in All-Star games and in the NBA Finals. Seeing Allen sprint along the baseline for one of his vintage corner 3-pointers to pull the Celtics within one point of the San Antonio Spurs in the fourth quarter on Wednesday probably did not even register in the list of top 20 shots Rivers has witnessed Allen hit.
"That's Ray Allen," Rivers said with a shrug.
In his return from a six-game absence due to a sore right ankle, Allen went scoreless until 15 seconds into the second quarter, when he curled off a screen to hit a medium-range jumper. The crowd at TD Garden cheered, taking the basket as evidence that Allen was as sharp as ever. Instead, it was his first and last basket until 39.8 seconds remained in the game.
It will take more than one game for Allen to get back to the level at which he was playing before the injury. No walkthrough or practice can simulate the game action he needs to hone his timing and footwork, which set him apart from other long-distance shooters. His teammates were far from discouraged by his 2-for-6 shooting performance.
"He did well," Paul Pierce said. "It's tough when you take five, six games off. Sometimes the timing's off, sometimes it's the conditioning. Ray's going to work his way back in slowly. He's a veteran. He knows what it takes."
Allen clarified the origin of his woes with the ankle, which he actually injured twice on Boston's eight-game road trip in March. He said he turned it in Los Angeles and again in Oakland, Calif., against Golden State.
He tried to play through it. He should have known better. He played 25 minutes in Milwaukee on March 22, shooting 1-for-8 from the field, before taking a seat the next night in Philadelphia.
"I never sat down," Allen said. "I stayed on it. It wasn't bad, but I still had achiness. It was swollen, but I could still walk on it. I was fine. I still played. But it was [ticked] off. I've always tried to give my body time, but we've played so many games, I didn't have time. One day it just said, 'I'm not going to move. I'm not going to go anywhere.' "
The ankle felt as good as it had in weeks when Allen woke up Tuesday, and its condition was unchanged Wednesday, he said. Yet he cautioned that even he was curious to see how the ankle held up to the rigors of a game for the first time in more than a week.
"You never go into the game thinking everything's going to be where it's supposed to be from where it was the last time," Allen said. "You've got to manage the game. You still cross your T's and dot your I's the same way. You focus on the game plan and you rely on your teammates to help you and you do the same thing."
There had been some concern about re-integrating Allen into the offense. The Celtics changed their identity somewhat during Allen's absence, adding a slash-and-score element to the offense while playing even better defense than they had while Allen was a starter on the NBA's top-ranked defense.
To point guard Rajon Rondo, it was no trouble at all.
"There's nothing different," Rondo said. "He's been out a while. He's a veteran. He's been hurt before. He's come back before."
The Celtics are hoping this is the last time Allen has to come back this season. They would prefer to have him around for all of the games the rest of the way.