Paul Pierce  was in the Zone — with a capital ‘Z’ as Kevin Garnett  put it — and the Celtics  were pulling away in the second quarter of their 101-79 victory Sunday night in Game 4 of their first-round series with the Hawks. The atmosphere plummeted from jovial to somber, though, when Pierce went down clutching his sprained knee. The Garden was hushed.
The stress of Pierce’s uncertain health was temporarily alleviated and the Garden was instantaneously in a frenzy once again when moments later, as he has done so many times, Ray Allen  came off a screen and buried a 3-pointer. It didn’t matter that this was only Allen’s second game back from an ankle injury that kept him out of the lineup nearly all of April. Both the Celtics and their fans understand what Allen provides: Relief and security due to his unmatched preparation.
“You see what he puts into his craft,” Garnett said. “You see why he is who he is, and the reputation he has earned. I use the word earned, not given. You expect great things out of him, and that’s what he gives you.”
The reputation Allen earned had to be altered. The 36 year-old is renowned for his arduous training regimen, but coming off an injury he has stressed body maintenance over basketball form. Allen said he has cut his routine down to 40 percent of its usual length, which indicates his understanding of how imperative it is to get rest. His willingness to adjust his militant habits is paying dividends.
“I’m really managing my off days really well,” Allen said. “You have a tendency when you get back off of an injury to kind of let it slide a bit, and I haven’t been. And it’s important to me to rest up, just staying off it.”
Still, despite the drastic change in workload and the aforementioned layoff, everything appears exactly the same. Allen’s fluent motion coming off picks and his signature jump shot that follows are as smooth as ever.
“Rhythm wise, I’m just shocked how he is able to keep the rhythm coming back from the injuries,” Garnett said. “It seems to amaze not only myself but everyone here. We know what he is capable of, and he comes through every time.”
Before the game Allen said he had to walk with his right foot turned sideways all day Saturday because of the wear and tear of unexpectedly playing 36 minutes in Friday night’s Game 3 victory. Doc Rivers  decided to give the players Saturday off and made a specific note that he wanted Allen off his feet.
Fortunately for Allen and Rivers, the Celtics jumped out to a commanding 64-41 lead by halftime in Game 4, allowing Rivers to limit Allen’s minutes to just 20 on Sunday night. Allen finished with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting (2-3 3P).
When asked whether he was shocked that his first shot attempt in Game 3 went in, Allen joked he would’ve have been shocked if it hadn’t. Deep down, as much as everyone chuckled, most were probably thinking the same thing.
“I don’t know if you guys follow astrology and all the things with the moon and stuff,” Garnett said. “I think the moon is the biggest that it’s ever been the other day. I don’t know where everybody lives here, but on my side of town I didn’t really get to see it, but I have pictures of it. Well, when Ray missed a free throw the other day, it was like seeing that moon. I couldn’t believe it.”
Garnett’s analogy is funny, mainly because it’s weird and rather arbitrary. But also because sometimes watching Allen’s flawless stroke makes it feel like the diameter of the hoop is the size of the moon, and not just 18 inches.