It was early in the fourth quarter and the Celtics  had just surrendered a lead, again, against the Golden State Warriors . The pattern, if there can be something so structured as a pattern when talking about Don Nelson’s quirky team, had gone something like this: Boston starters establish the lead, bench gives it up.
After having played 55 of the available 60 minutes in the third quarter, every one of the starters with the exception of Paul Pierce  was justifiably getting some rest. But still, the lead was disappearing, and big picture thoughts are often far from the minds of the paying customers.
Someone in the stands called out, “C’mon Doc! Call a timeout. Put the stahtahs back in.” But, of course, Rivers couldn’t do that yet. This was still Game 16 of an 82-game season , and as it was, Pierce, Kevin Garnett  and Ray Allen  were on track to log almost 40 minutes apiece, well above the prescribed court time Doc had intended.
The bench, which has been generally good this year and at times excellent was not having a stellar evening. It wasn’t until Big Baby Davis finished off a three-point play with nine minutes and change left in the fourth quarter that any of the reserves had actually converted a shot from the floor.
But then, Nellie  Ball, came into play. Nelson’s lineups are always a mystery from one game to the next and for the stretch run he elected to play CJ Watson , Jamal Crawford , Stephen Jackson  and Corey Maggette  together as a unit. None of those four could even charitably be considered a “big” forward, and with such a quick, trigger-happy bunch on the floor, Doc countered with his own version of small ball. All of which is a very long way of getting around to Tony Allen .
On the court with Garnett, Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo  (who was fantastic again and whose play received an All-Star vote from KG, “whether Gary Payton likes it or not,”) was Tony Allen.
This was the perfect opportunity for Tony Allen to showoff his unique skills. On three different occasions, TA slithered and contorted his body into impossible angles to convert layups. On the defensive end, he harassed Crawford into an altogether forgettable 5-for-17 shooting night.
“Tony was great,” Rivers said. “We had to go small, which we don’t like doing. Fortunately we had worked on (it); you know, we anticipated this. So Paul played some four and Tony was able to give us a big lift.”
There is no player in Celtic Green who causes as much consternation as Tony Allen. There are times when he is absolutely brilliant–Garnett said that Allen and Pierce are the two best Celtics at getting to the basket and drawing contact–and there are times when he follows a phenomenal play by doing something inexplicable, like dribbling the ball off his thigh.
A couple of weeks ago, Tony Allen was talking about his recovery from knee surgery (a surgery that was brought on by a meaningless dunk long after a whistle had stopped play). He talked about how he wasn’t all the way back from the injury, and how he was anticipating contact at times when it didn’t actually happen. Pressed to put a percentage on his health he settled on 85 percent, but the number isn’t all that important.
What is important is that he feels the injury is still with him, and the only way for him to get through that feeling is to play his way through it. Earlier this season, Rivers noted that Allen’s effectiveness is directly proportional to the amount of time he plays; the more he plays the more he produces. To put it another way, he’s never going to be an Eddie House  microwave type.
Big minutes are not a luxury reserves on the Celtics can be accustomed to. Short of an injury, Allen will get his 16-22 minutes, but what is different for him this year is that he knows he is going to get those minutes, and lately he has been making the most of them.
His 23-point effort against Detroit in early November when Pierce encountered some early foul trouble stands as the highlight, but in the last four games he has gone for 13, 14, 15 and nine points. That kind of offense, which rarely comes from 3-point shots, is invaluable to a Celtics bench that lacks a true go-to scorer.
Defensively, and everything with the Celtics inevitably comes back to defense, Allen has the kind of quickness and athletic ability to hang with a variety of NBA perimeter players. And if he goes for the occasional pump fake a little too often, well, there are very few players who can cover the kind of ground Allen can to even be in position to contest a wide-open jump shot.
The bottom line is the Celtics won a game they were losing by double figures against a small shoot-first, ask-questions-later team. It was the perfect setup for Tony Allen, and he delivered.