When the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers met in the 2008 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, Ray Allen was practically nowhere to be found, and it almost cost his team the series. Back then, if you'll recall, the Celtics were still very much reliant upon The Big Three, comprised of Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett. Rajon Rondo was not yet the dominant 6'1 force he is steadily becoming today, but rather, just a second-year point guard, surrounded by critics who questioned his ability to run a team built around three future Hall of Famers. Allen was a key cog in the equation that postseason, but his lack of production against the Cavaliers (9.3 points per game, 32.7 percent shooting from the field, 16.6 percent from three-point nation) was almost catastrophic. Fortunately for Allen, Paul Pierce's miraculous Game 7, and a lackluster supporting cast for LeBron James, eventually put the Celtics over the top.
Two years later, the two teams once again find themselves deadlocked in a back-and-forth series with a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals on the line. This time, however, Rondo is very much a one-man wrecking crew who the Cavaliers are not equipped to deal with, and Allen is once again needed, arguably even more so than in 2008, largely due to James having an above average group of teammates around him.
I labeled Ray Allen as my player to watch for this series, because I felt he had the easiest matchup, going up against Anthony Parker, and because I felt that a performance from him similar to that of 2008 would effectively end the Celtics' season. So far, through five games, his numbers have trumped those of two years ago, and the main reason for it appears to be the steady improvement of Rajon Rondo.
Back on April 6, before it was even apparent that the Celtics and Cavaliers would meet in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, I wrote how Ray Allen would need to take at least 15 shots per game if the two teams did in fact end up meeting. The stats showed favorable production from Allen when he took at least that many shots. Take a look at some numbers:
Ray Allen through five games of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals:
17.2 points per game, 14.4 field goal attempts per game, 44.4 percent shooting from the field, and 37.5 percent shooting from three-point nation.
Ray Allen through five games of the 2008 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals:
10.4 points per game, 9.4 field goal attempts per game, 34 percent shooting from the field, and 21 percent shooting from three-point nation.
A substantial difference, to say the least. Let it also be known that Rajon Rondo averaged just 5.8 assists per game through five games of the 2008 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, compared to 11.8 assists per game through five games of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
Now, check this out:
Through five games of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, Ray Allen has tallied 86 points, with 45 of them coming off of assists from Rajon Rondo, which measures out to 52.32 percent. So, over half of Ray's points this series have come off of feeds from Rondo.
Through five games of the 2008 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, Ray Allen scored a total of 52 points, with just eight of them coming off of assists from Rondo, measuring out to a mere 15.3 percent.
Clearly, a more concerted effort by the Celtics, and Rondo in particular, to get Allen the ball this series is paying off. Given his role on this team, Ray's arguably at his best when he's getting shots after meandering around a sea of screens, making the defense react to him. Given the players around him, Ray's clearly not going to have the ball in his hands all the time in order to create for himself, and the stats prove that other guys, especially Rondo, play a huge role in his scoring.
When you look at this from Rondo's point of view, this is what it boils down to:
Back in 2008, through five games of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, Rondo recorded 29 assists, with only three of those leading to baskets by Allen, which measures out to 10.3 percent.
So far, through five games of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, Rondo's tallied 59 total assists, and 17 of them have gone to Ray Allen, good for 28.8 percent. So, over a quarter, and nearly one-third of Rondo's total assists in this series so far, have gone to Ray Allen.
So this got me thinking and here's my theory: When Ray came here it was obvious that he would not be the focus of the offense, as he was in Seattle. But, with his new role with the Celtics involving so much movement without the basketball, he needed someone (not even a point guard necessarily) to feed him the ball consistently in prime position. Two years ago, Rondo showed signs of being that guy, but was not yet that guy. Now, two years later, he is in fact that guy, and Ray's beginning to reap the benefits, particularly in this series. Think about Ray's movement without the ball, which involves not just curling around screens, but a steady amount of flares and fades as well, and think about how difficult some of the passes Rondo feeds him actually are. No other player on this team could make a fair amount of the passes that Rondo makes to Ray, especially not with the pinpoint accuracy associated with the majority of Rondo's passes. With Rondo now dictating the offense for this team, there's a much greater emphasis on ball movement, and Ray is one of the prime benefactors.
On top of hitting some of the most clutch shots for the Celtics over the last three seasons, Ray, in general, knocks down some of the most impactful shots over the course of a game, which is why it's so important to have him involved in the offense for 48 minutes. Take last night, for example. The Celtics led, 50-44, at halftime. A minute and six seconds into the third quarter, Rondo had already fed Allen for back-to-back three-point field goals, which increased the Celtics' lead to 12. What was a minuscule deficit for the Cavs had blossomed into a double-digit lead for the Celtics. In my eyes, Ray's the best player on this team at hitting impactful shots like those. Basically, his ability to hit baskets (three-pointers in particular) is a huge asset when it comes to either extending leads or chipping away at hefty deficits, and typically, when Ray starts hitting shots like these, Rondo's the guy feeding him the ball.
The two have become a lethal pair, and the cohesiveness these two players in particular continue to demonstrate throughout this series could go a long way in the Celtics potentially advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.