By Dylan Barmmer
Ray Allen has seen and done and won a lot during the course of his brilliant 17-year NBA career.
Like a 2000 Olympic Gold medal. A 2008 NBA Championship. Four franchises (on both coasts and in the heart of the midwest). Ten NBA All-Star Game selections.
And an NBA-record 2,857 3-point field goals (the closest active player to that mark, New York Knicks guard Jason Kidd, has 1,988 long-distance hits).
But this season has been a bit different. And in some ways, it's even been entirely new for the 37-year-old veteran who's put the "shooting" in shooting guard like few others ever have.
For starters, Allen did not start a game in the 2012-13 season.
After not only starting, but starring, for the Milwaukee Bucks, Seattle SuperSonics and Boston Celtics in his first 16 seasons, the 6-foot-5, 205-pound Allen has successfully and smoothly transitioned into a reserve role during his first season with the HEAT.
Serving as the spark plug and primary scorer off the HEAT bench, Allen has handled his new job with the same blend of professional class and cold-blooded, game-icing accuracy that always defined his days as a starter.
As the HEAT transition into playoff mode after wrapping up a franchise record-setting and historic regular season, Allen closes yet another stellar season having finished fourth on the HEAT in scoring (10.9 points per game), fifth in steals (0.9 steals per game), fifth in assists (1.7 assists per game), sixth in rebounding (2.8 rebounds per game) and seventh in field-goal percentage (44.9%).
The veteran sharpshooter also led all HEAT players in free-throw percentage (88.6%) and 3-point field goals made (139), and was second only to Shane Battier in 3-point field goal shooting percentage (41.9%) – an already awesome accomplishment that is even more impressive when one considers he did so coming off the bench.
The 41.9% mark was also good enough for 15th in the entire NBA, while the 139 3-pointers made ranked 29th in the league.
Allen did all this despite ranking fifth on the HEAT in playing time, with his 25.8-minute-per-game average the lowest since he logged 30.9 minutes a game as a 21-year-old rookie with the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1996-1997 season. To put Allen's experience and durability in perspective, HEAT point guard Mario Chalmers was just 10 years old at the start of Allen's first NBA season, while his backup Norris Cole was only 8. HEAT stars Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James were just 14, 12 and 11, respectively.
Most importantly, Allen's veteran presence helped the HEAT fine-tune and refine their exciting new era of brilliant basketball. And like Allen himself, his new team experienced a season of more than a few firsts.
Allen played a vital role in the HEAT setting a new franchise standard for wins and securing an NBA-best 66-16 record – an accomplishment that is not only a franchise first, but guarantees them homecourt advantage throughout the postseason. Allen also was a big reason the HEAT set a new franchise record for homecourt wins (37), with his scoring (11.7 points per game), rebounding (2.9 rebounds per game), shooting (48.3%) and 3-point shooting (48.1%) averages at AmericanAirlines Arena all exceeding his overall season averages.
And with the NBA's all-time 3-point field goal marksman leading the charge, the HEAT also established a new franchise mark for 3-pointers made (717) and 3-point field goal percentage (39.6%) in a single season. With 4 players canning 100 or more 3-pointers in the same season for the first time in franchise history, the HEAT drilled 10 or more long-range field goals 31 times – winning each of those 31 games.
Of course, Allen's tireless work ethic – in opponent preparation, shooting drills, conditioning work and in-game effort – and age-defying fitness level also helped elevate the already intense and focused culture of the club established many seasons ago by former HEAT coach and current president Pat Riley. Despite ranking as the second-oldest player on a veteran-laded team, Allen missed just 3 games, and logged 30 minutes or more off the bench in 12 games.
Then there was The Streak. As the HEAT methodically and at-times miraculously strung win after win after win together to build a 27-game winning streak that ranks second to only the Los Angeles Lakers' 33-game streak in 1971-72, Allen came up big time after time after time. His offensive output was also as prolific and consistent as it was all season, as he scored 10 or more points in 17 of those 27 games – including 8 straight games from Feb. 12 through Mar. 1 – and cracked the 20-point barrier twice.
Put simply: Ray Allen delivered for the HEAT this season. And then some.
And he did so operating outside of his comfort zone. In a new role. On a new team. Surrounded by new teammates.
And he did so from Game 1.
Allen opened the season scorching the nets off the bench, scoring 15 or more points in 4 of the HEAT's first 6 games, as the HEAT raced out to fast 5-1 start. Allen drained 16 of 27 shots from behind the arc during that opening 6-game stretch, including 2 of 3 in his first game in a HEAT uniform, a 120-107 win over the Celtics that saw him score 19 points, grab 2 rebounds and dish 2 assists against the franchise he helped lead to its 17th NBA Championship in 2008.
That 5-1 beginning would prove to be just the start of a truly spectacular season for the HEAT, who now prepare to face the Bucks in the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs, bringing everything full circle for Allen, who will turn 38 on July 20 – or just a handful of weeks after the HEAT hope to be celebrating their second consecutive NBA Championship.
While Allen's methodical, professional, intense and intensive personality, professionalism and overall approach to all facets of the game make it impossible to measure his impact on his team and teammates in mere numbers, there were certainly a handful of highlight performances that HEAT fans won't soon forget – and that enabled and empowered both the franchise record-setting win streak and victory total.
--Just 2 games after his successful debut, Allen scored a season-high 23 points, grabbed 5 rebounds and snared 2 steals in a 119-116 home win over the Denver Nuggets on Nov. 3, 2012. Allen nailed 8 of 12 shots from the field, including a season-high 6 3-pointers in 10 attempts, to help the HEAT bounce back from a 104-84 loss to the Knicks in New York the night before and avoid a 1-2 start to the season. Allen's final 4 points came on a rare 4-point play with 6.7 seconds left to play in the game, after LeBron James found him for a left corner 3-pointer that he drilled while being fouled.
--Allen scored 17 points and grabbed 5 rebounds in a 110-108 home win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Nov. 24, hitting 6 of 11 field goals, including 3 of 5 from long-distance. Allen once again converted a go-ahead 3-pointer on a drive-and-kick from James, this one coming with just 18.2 seconds left to play. That dagger was part of a game-ending 9-0 run by the HEAT in a game they led for just 2:29 – and trailed 108-101 with 1:58 remaining. It was also the final 3 of 15 points Allen scored in the fourth quarter – the most he had poured in during a fourth quarter since March 8, 2009. The thrilling win gave the HEAT a 10-3 record, and helped them move to a perfect 6-0 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
--In another thrilling home win, this one a 105-101 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 29, Allen scored 20 points, going 7 of 15 from the floor and a flawless 5 of 5 from the free-throw line. Allen once again nailed a late-game 3-pointer from James, this one coming from the left wing and putting the HEAT up 100-98 with 22.6 seconds left to play. Allen scored 11 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, including 5 during a game-closing 12-2 run that saw the HEAT race back from down 98-93 with 2:14 remaining. The long-distance dagger made Allen 3-for-3 on game-tying or go-ahead shots in the final 24 seconds of a game – and ensured the HEAT stayed a perfect 7-0 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
--Allen scored 12 points, grabbed 2 rebounds and dished 2 assists in a 98-94 win at Philadelphia on March 13, 2013. Allen scored his 12 points on just 5 field goal attempts, hitting 3 of them, including 2 from long-range, to go with 4 free throws. In a tight, back-and-forth game in a hostile environment, Allen scored 6 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer in front of the 76ers' bench that put the HEAT up 89-86 with 3:11 remaining. The win stretched the HEAT's streak to 20 games, making them just the fourth team in NBA history to win 20 consecutive games in a single season.
--Allen scored 20 points in just 25 minutes of a 108-91 win over the Raptors in Toronto on March 17, drilling 7 of 10 shots from the field, including 4 of 6 from behind the 3-point arc. Allen scored 16 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, with all 16 coming during a blistering 28-4 run that broke a 77-77 tie and ensured a HEAT rout. Allen drilled 5 of 6 field goals during that game-changing burst, including 4 of 5 3-pointers, and pumped out his 16 points in just 5:43 of game time. The win put the HEAT at 51-14 and extended their winning streak to 22 games, tying the 2007-08 Houston Rockets for the second-longest winning streak in NBA history.
--Shortly after the HEAT's historic streak had ended, Allen played a key role in maybe the season's most surprising win, scoring 14 points, dishing a HEAT-high 5 assists and grabbing 3 rebounds in an 88-86 victory at San Antonio on March 31. Allen hit 6 of 12 shots, including 2 of 5 3-pointers, but his biggest contribution didn't involve shooting – although it once again helped secure a comeback win in the game's waning moments. With the Spurs leading 86-85 following what looked like a game-winning shot by Tim Duncan, Duncan missed a short runner with 11 seconds left on the clock. Allen alertly grabbed the rebound, raced downcourt and kicked the ball out to Bosh, who drilled an open 3-pointer of his own from the top of the key with 1.9 seconds left. Perhaps inspired by Allen, the 6-foot-11 Bosh hit a career-high 3 3-pointers in the game, and the short-handed HEAT beat the Spurs on their own floor without the services of James or Wade, who both rested nagging injuries. The rousing road win put the HEAT at 58-15, 3 full games ahead of the Spurs in the race for the NBA's top record – and homecourt advantage throughout the 2013 Playoffs. The win also ensured that the HEAT finished March with a 17-1 record – and set an NBA record for wins in a single month.
--With James, Wade and Bosh all resting minor injuries, Allen scored a game-high 23 points, pulled down 6 rebounds, dished 4 assists and snared a game-high 3 steals in a 103-98 win at Washington on April 10. Allen had another huge fourth quarter, pumping in 11 points, handing out 3 assists and getting his hands on 2 rebounds and 2 steals to key a 34-point outburst that enabled the HEAT to race from down 72-71 to up 93-86 in just 5:40. The win gave the HEAT a franchise-record 62nd victory, and snapped a 9-game home winning streak for the surging young Wizards.
--With James, Wade and Bosh all returning to the lineup for the first time in two weeks, Allen complimented the HEAT's star trio with 17 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block to help key a 109-101 home win over the Celtics on April 12. Allen drilled 5 of 6 shots from the field, including 3 of 4 3-pointers, and sank 4 of 5 free throws to help lead a blistering bench that outscored Boston's reserves 52-14. The victory stretched the HEAT's new winning streak to 5 games, improved their NBA-best record to 63-16 and tied a franchise record for home wins (35).
All told, Allen scored 10 or more points 48 times this season – including in 17 of the 27 games during the historic winning streak – and the HEAT went 41-7 in those games.
Allen also hit the 20-point threshold 7 times – including 2 games during the winning streak – and the HEAT went 6-1 in those games.
Allen also finished the season strong, averaging 12.6 points per game in April and scoring 10 or more points in 7 of the 8 games he played in. With Wade, James and Bosh sitting out a handful of games to nurse nagging injuries, he also upped his assist-per-game average to 2.6 per game over those 8 games.
But it may be the postseason that proves most beneficial and fruitful in the already successful partnership between Allen and the HEAT.
Allen is certainly no stranger to postseason success. In 128 career playoff games spanning 9 postseason appearances, Allen has averaged 18.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.1 steals in 38.8 minutes per game. He's shot 44.7% from the field, including 40.2% from long-distance (with 313 made 3-pointers) and 88.2% from the free throw line. Once again the model of consistency, those averages closely mirror his regular-season averages over 1,224 games.
Allen averaged 15.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.9 steals over 26 grueling postseason games in the 2008 Playoffs, when he won his lone NBA Championship -- and helped the Celtics secure the most recent of their NBA-best 17 titles. He scored 20 or more points in 6 of those 26 games, including 25- and 26-point outings in the Celtics' 4-2 NBA Finals win over the L.A. Lakers. The 26 points came in the closeout Game 6 victory, a 131-92 rout that saw him drill 8 of his 12 field goal attempts, including 7 of 9 from behind the 3-point arc. Allen averaged 20.3 points and hit 50.7% of his shots from the field in the Finals, including an incredible 52.4% (22 of 42) from long-range. He also grabbed 5 or more rebounds 3 times, and snared 3 steals in 2 of the 6 games.
As he prepares for his first foray into postseason play as a member of the HEAT, fans of the team and the NBA alike eagerly anticipate witnessing whatever Allen will author as the next chapter of his compelling career.
A title defense is rarely anything like easy or predictable. But if anything in NBA history has been close to automatic, it's been Allen effortlessly and athletically rising for a crucial, crippling 3-pointer...and landing with another milestone marker in his hip pocket.
After all, Allen has seen and done and won a lot during a career that seems destined for the Hall of Fame annals. And he's showing no signs of slowing down just yet.