"I asked this question the other day to Brendan (Malone, Orlando's well-seasoned assistant coach) because Brendan's a year or two older than I am,'' said coach Stan Van Gundy dryly at the Magic's practice Saturday. "I said, 'How many better catch-and-shoot players -- guys coming off screens -- have there ever been in this league?' It's amazing ... Doc (Rivers of the Celtics) does a great job with their offense, but you're designing plays for a guy to run full speed off a screen, come to a stop on a dime and shoot a three and knock it in.''
When the Celtics traded for Allen in 2007, they predicted he would be unlike the great lost majority of shooting guards who lose their legs in their early 30s. They hoped he would be his generation's Reggie Miller, and that he is. On Sunday, he routinely outraced defenders Matt Barnes and J.J. Redick around the corner like a pinball on a roulette wheel. But, he added another destructive element by putting the ball on the floor and driving it inside.
The No. 2 seeded-Magic had spent the previous two days preparing for the Celtics to play through Rajon Rondo. Instead, the Celtics turned Allen into a primary ballhandler and played Rondo off the ball. "We've never done that,'' said Rivers. "Because they help so hard off Rondo, we decided to make him an extra picker tonight and it went well for us.''
It went well because Allen's 14 NBA years have left him with the wisdom to know when to shoot or upfake, when to take it down the throat of the lane for a left-handed finish or when to pull up for a mid-range jumper or when to create for others. He has earned that insight without sacrificing his legs, but then that's what summers of hard work and day after day of running on the treadmill or showing up early for pregame workouts have done for him. He is old above the neck and young from the shoulders on down.
In the first quarter, Rondo, 24, was yelling to him about a rotation onto Dwight Howard in the Magic's early offense. Allen spread his hands and lowered them as if suffocating his young point guard with a pillow. "Relax!'' he yelled back at Rondo.
"I was saying don't get yourself all overworked, because I heard you the first time,'' said Allen, who at 34 hasn't lost his hearing quite yet. "All you've got to do is tell me once. You're out there battling, and it's OK. You can say whatever you want to me -- I'm not taking it personal and we're going to figure this game out. Mistakes will be made, and we've got to do them together and recover from those mistakes together, and together we'll be stronger.''
Boston's defense held Orlando to 20 percent shooting (4-of-20) to grab a 22-14 first-quarter lead that expanded to 31-16 after Orlando managed three shots and five turnovers over the opening five minutes of the second. As much as they succeeded in stifling Howard (3-of-10 for 13 points and seven turnovers) with the man-to-man defense of Kendrick Perkins or Rasheed Wallace, it was Allen who stuck them with the knives to punish them at the other end of the floor.
Just as Orlando was threatening a fourth-quarter comeback, Allen responded with a silencing mid-range jumper off the dribble. After the Magic had trimmed the deficit to 10 points, Allen caught a Kevin Garnett pass and connected on a three-pointer with 5:34 to go. When Vince Carter cleverly missed a free throw with 8.4 seconds remaining -- which was tipped in by Jameer Nelson sprinting in from the arc like a wing man recovering an onside kick -- it was Allen who sought the ball, was fouled and doubtlessly swished both free throws to finish the scoring and reclaim home-court advantage for the No. 4 seeded Celtics.
"He's very disciplined,'' said Van Gundy presciently on the eve of the game, "and you want to make sure you don't give him extra time or leave him open. But, at the same time, nobody is going to lock him down. We were able to do some things last year because they were undermanned and you could do some different things (defensively). That's harder now, plus Rondo is playing at a whole different level than he was a year ago.''
The Magic hadn't lost in 14 games since April 2, but their fluid offense congealed and forced Carter to go one-on-one for many of his 23 points. In the meantime, Allen was scoring smoothly in the flow, which should come as no surprise. Amid the injuries to Garnett and Pierce this season, he has been the most reliable of the Big Three all year.
"When we started the playoffs, Doc wrote on the board, 'Resolve,''' said Allen. "He said we have to have resolve if we want to go where we want to go.
"There was a stretch in the season where we know each other so well -- we've been around each other for a couple of years now -- that we were becoming less patient with each other. When things went awry in any quarter or any game or we lost a couple of games, we were getting on each other a little bit too much. We can take it; we respected each other.
"When we started the playoffs, that's what we said -- teams are going to hit us, they're going to attack us. When somebody scores on us, which they will, we have to get the ball out and take it back down there and score on them. Nobody can hang their heads. We can't have bad body language. We've done a great job with it. We always remind ourselves, you don't want to regress back to where you were.''
Now they appear to be where they were during their championship run of two years ago. And yet Ray Allen looks no older.