BOSTON -- The ball was still loose on the parquet floor when Ray Allen started to sprint in the other direction. He watched as Rajon Rondo picked the ball up and waved for Allen to spot up on the wing. There was a little bobble after the catch but not enough to disrupt Allen's rhythm. With Kobe Bryant watching helplessly in front of him, Allen launched a high arcing shot that settled softly into the net.
With that three -- No. 2,561 in his Hall of Fame career -- Allen officially entered the NBA record books as the greatest three-point shooter in history. He made a beeline for Reggie Miller, the man Allen moved to No. 2 on the all-time list. He accepted a congratulatory tap on the back from longtime rival Bryant and hugs from his jubilant teammates. He kissed his mom, his wife and kids -- a family that has become as much a part of the fabric of the Boston community as Allen himself. He hugged Miller again for good measure, sharing a long embrace with his sharpshooting counterpart with whom he will forever be linked.
"All records are made to be broken," Miller said. "I had a conversation with Ray earlier tonight and he was like, 'When I was a rookie and I came to Market Square Arena and I saw you for three, three and a half hours before (the game) shooting, that's how I wanted to patent my game.' I'm just so happy for him because this is one of the best guys. This is great for the game of basketball. You know why? We're focusing and talking about shooting. You know how many hours [we spent] and we had keys to the gym, we'd go early. No one talks about shooting anymore."
Allen was not born with the ability to shoot, no matter how many pundits (hello, Mark Jackson) suggest otherwise. His stroke is polished -- "So pretty," marveled Nets coach Avery Johnson -- but it is not exactly fundamentally sound.
When Allen elevates, his shooting hand is slightly off-center, which he compensates for by spreading his long index and middle fingers directly behind the ball. It's a technique he practiced (and practiced, and practiced) as he bounced from military bases in the U.S., Germany and England as a youth, during three decorated years at UConn and in an NBA career that has spanned 15 years and counting.
"People are born with certain physical gifts, size, speed and quickness," said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. "But skills? No. He did not come out of the womb being able to shoot a basketball. That has to be developed. He's a great role model to people who not only want to be good basketball players, but good at anything. He doesn't take anything for granted. He's still the first guy in the building every day. He still gets up more shots than anyone."
Indeed, Allen's work ethic has become legendary. He admits he has "borderline OCD" which has, in some ways, contributed to his success. On game days he naps from 11:30 to 1. His pre-game meal comes at 2:30 and he is at the arena by 3:45. He is on the court at 4:30 where he runs through shooting drills from the baseline, elbow and top of the key.
"He learned at a very young age how to get his feet under him, how to get his balance," said Nuggets coach George Karl, who coached Allen for 4½ seasons in Milwaukee. "His confidence is incredible. He thinks he is going to make every shot he takes and he also likes taking the big shot. There are nights when I watched him play I didn't think he was ever going to miss."
Of course, Allen's staggering success is about more than just hitting open shots. It's about an ability to rub so close to a screen that a sheet of paper couldn't find its way through. It's about the uncanny speed he uses to traverse two spots on the floor in the half court. It's about how, at 35, Allen is in better shape than most players 10 or 15 years his junior.
"He just never stops moving," Johnson said. "He's a guy in the half court that without the ball can get from point A to point B as quick as anybody in the league. And it takes him a half a second -- probably less -- to get his shot off once he gets to his spots."
Allen's shooting is only a part of his game. A big part, yes, but over the years Allen has proven to be a complete player. His defense, Johnson says, has improved every year. And Allen has used the attention he draws coming off a screen to become a better playmaker. He ranks in the top 100 in NBA history in assists and has averaged at least three assists per game in 12 of his 15 seasons.
"In the time I've been in the league there is nobody that compares to [Miller and Allen]," Van Gundy said. "And it's not just in their ability to shoot the ball; the energy with which they play, and the plays Ray makes off the catch-and-shoots -- you try to get a second defender to him to take away the jump shot and he makes the plays. The hardest thing to defend is him running off screens, and not just because of his shooting; when you take that away, he can make all of the plays. He is a great, great player."
Asking how long Allen can keep going has become academic. "He is playing better now than he did the last two years," Van Gundy said. Allen treats his body like a temple and has played in at least 73 games in each of his last three seasons. He is 810 threes ahead of the next active player (Jason Kidd) and has averaged 175 threes per season in his last three years with the Celtics. If he plays two or three more, 3,000 certainly is within reach.
"That position especially, those wing positions, if you really study the league over the years those guys tend to drop off even quicker in terms of age than big guys or point guards." Van Gundy said. "To have him playing the way he is at his age and as many years as he has been in the league is a tribute to him and his work ethic."