Ray Allen knew it would take some time for him to get back into the flow after missing six games with a sore right ankle, but while discussing his impending return after a practice earlier this week, he seemed confident the process would not take very long.
Addressing whether he might come off the bench while he got his basketball legs back under him, Allen was optimistic that his rapport with his teammates — be they starters or reserves — would make up for his shortcomings until he had fully worked himself back into game shape.
"Whatever combinations we work out there, we're all good enough and professional enough to understand it," Allen said. "We know our plays. We're at a point in the season where everybody knows who each other are. It's second nature now for all of us."
The time away may or may not have been to blame, but whatever the reason Allen was off just enough on several crucial plays Thursday to hamper the Celtics in a 93-86 loss to the Bulls in Chicago.
For only the fourth time in his career, Allen came off the bench. After starting Wednesday in his first game back from injury, Allen went to Celtics coach Doc Rivers and suggested he come off the bench with Avery Bradley, who has been a sparkplug for the Celtics on offense and defense, re-assuming the starting role.
The Celtics had been thinking for some time of moving Allen to the bench, Rivers said, and moving Mickael Pietrus into the starting lineup. Rivers would have liked to give Allen a few more games with the first unit to get back into a groove, the coach said, but the future Hall of Famer did not feel it necessary to wait.
"Give Ray credit," Rivers said. "He came to me. We had talked a while ago and he said, 'Hey, I think this may be the time.'"
All things considered, Allen played well against the Bulls. He scored 14 points on 5-for-10 shooting and went 3-for-3 from the foul line. He played more than 31 minutes after logging more than 34 minutes in a one-point loss to San Antonio the night before.
And it went fine until there were 42 seconds left. With the Celtics trailing by seven points, Allen stepped up and drilled what appeared to be an off-balance 3-pointer to cut the deficit to four points. Upon review, though, the officials ruled that Allen's toe had brushed the line, making it just a tough two-pointer. It was not the biggest gaffe in the world, but it was one Allen might not have made had he been completely in tune with his game and his body.
The tougher play came a 21 seconds later, after the Celtics had forced a defensive stop and called a timeout to draw up a play with 25.2 seconds left. The first part of the play, Allen rubbing off a Kevin Garnett screen into the corner for an open 3, worked beautifully. But Rajon Rondo miscommunicated and tossed the ball out of bounds into the expensive courtside seats with 21.5 seconds on the game clock.
Allen's slight miscues were not the reason the Celtics lost on Thursday. Rivers was far more critical of the Celtics' overall approach to the game, and their 44-36 rebounding disadvantage or the 21 points off turnovers they allowed contributed far more heavily to the loss than the few inches Allen was off here or there.
In the final 12 games of the regular season, Allen will have to try to even out those rough edges, as a few measly inches will carry far more weight come playoff time.