BOSTON — As the regular season wound down and the Celtics were preparing for their first-round playoff series with the Atlanta Hawks, Kevin Garnett asked Ray Allen, who had missed almost three weeks with bone spurs in his right ankle, a blunt question.
"Do you think you are going to make it back for the series?" Garnett asked, as Allen recalled.
"It's not looking like it," Allen responded.
So when Allen walked onto the court Friday morning for the team's shootaround before Game 3, Garnett said he was puzzled.
"What are you doing out here?" Garnett asked, as he recounted later.
"I'm going to give it a go," Allen said, according to Garnett.
Allen indeed gave it a go, but his first game action since April 10 was no token appearance. Allen entered less than eight minutes into Friday's game, hit the first shot he took, and just kept on playing as he recorded 37 minutes of playing time in the Celtics' 90-84 overtime victory to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
"When you get sidelined with any type of injury, sometimes you just succumb to the injury or whatever soreness or pain you are dealing with," Allen said after his 13-point, six-rebound performance, which included a defensive rebound and free throw in the closing seconds to help seal the win. "I know mine is real and it still is real, but I've gotten to a point where I'm able to handle it a little better than maybe a week ago.
"From day to day, sometimes I haven't known how it was going to affect me, but in the last two or three days it's probably been the best it's been."
Allen's return came at a crucial time for the Celtics, who lost Avery Bradley with what was termed a sore left shoulder with two minutes left in the third quarter. Bradley's absence made it necessary for Celtics coach Doc Rivers to lean on Allen, but Rivers said the uncertainty regarding Allen's status beyond Friday was the biggest reason he kept Allen on the court for more than 16 minutes in the second half and all five minutes of overtime.
"I thought his legs were shot at the end," Rivers said. "We started trying to use him as a decoy. Like I told whoever asked me before the game if there would be a minute restriction, I said no because we don't know when he'll play again."
Garnett said he felt a palpable change in the air at the TD Garden when Allen checked into the game.
"I feel like he built up the energy, so that was good," Garnett said. "It was good to see the fans appreciate that."
Allen's concerns are far from dispelled. The first step was getting back on the court, but the next step is seeing how his ankle responds to the stress. Rivers gave the team a rare day without practice during the playoffs on Saturday because he felt the players, and Allen in particular, could use the rest.
Allen, as hard a player as any for Rivers to keep out of the gym, admitted he was unsure what to expect.
"Tomorrow's a new day, but I'm not going into it feeling like a victim," Allen said. "I'm thinking it's going to be good [Saturday] and it's going to be even better Sunday."
Allen was back, for a game at least. That alone was more than even he thought possible.