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Ball Hawk Down

Season of Adversity Continues as Emotional Leader Falls

tonydown.jpgAuthors Note: There is an important and inevitable human element at play behind the performance on the court. Normally, I leave that intrigue to other writers in an attempt to uncover the more basic game elements that effect execution. But, the scene inside the locker room after the game was such that I felt it essential to step out of character and write a different sort of piece. Tony Allen’s injury tonight exacted a cost greater than what can be felt by his statistical performance. His life’s path may have forever been altered. In the words that follow I’ll attempt to place some emotional perspective onto the situation in an attempt capture the sentiment of the inner-circle…

There was a multitude of intriguing story lines beginning to coalesce as this game progressed into the third quarter of play. Doc Rivers had elected to start the tandem of Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins for the fist time this season, Sebastian Telfair had put together a promising first half running the point, and Leon Powe had dusted off the cobwebs to play some inspired defense on Jermaine O’neal. Yet, amongst all the various intrigue of the evening it was Tony Allen who rose above all else.

It has been a season of redemption for Allen. The well-documented troubles of a season past had placed him under the scrutiny of the public eye in Boston. The promise he showed as a young upstart in his rookie year had faded for many into the inner recesses of their mind’s eye as Tony struggled through a painful sophomore slump.

Whether it was by his own doing or a combination of the fates, Tony Allen had found himself in an unenviable position on this Celtics team. Where once he had found himself a starter unopposed, Allen came into this season with a slew of competition vying for attention at his position. Paul Pierce and Wally Szczerbiak were obvious obstacles in the way of playing time. But, upstart Gerald Green had brought a dramatic improvement in his game with him to training camp and it was his highlight reel dunks that had replaced Allen’s in the hearts and minds of the Celtics faithful.

Tony Allen came into this season with an uncertain future. Early season opportunity and optimism from Coach Rivers soon gave way to doubt as Allen’s wayward play cost him playing time and a spot in the rotation. During a season where “separation” had been the hallmark message to the youth of this team, Allen seemed to be fading to the background, becoming an afterthought to many Celtics’ fans and surely a point of concern for the team.

But Allen battled back. The team’s litany of injuries gave him new life and Allen played with a purpose and a fire that was contagious to the team. As much as Al Jefferson’s interior play factored into the team’s 5 game winning streak, it was Allen’s enthusiasm and full-tilt frenetic energy that brought life to his squad.

It’s somewhat ironic that a player who has lacked focus at times could be such a focal point for others to feed off of. The intensity with which Allen has played this season had been one of the few satisfying elements of a frustrating season. While Pierce has been out it has unequivocally been Allen who has stepped forward and “separated” himself from his peers. A burgeoning career had begun to take shape as Allen put the past behind him and exploded to the forefront of the team’s youth movement.

At the 3:01 mark of the third quarter of last night’s game this chapter of Allen’s professional life came to a close.

As suddenly as Allen had emerged from obscurity, so too was the tone in which he exited. There was no great collision, no spectacular accident to wrap the mind around. The play was as commonplace as it was cruel in outcome. A light foul followed by a dunk attempt after the whistle. Nothing. It was ill-fortune only that can be held responsible for the aftermath. Allen came down and his knee just buckled.

It’s a play that must have happened a thousand times thus far this season and no player to date has suffered the same fate as Allen. But, tonight that same play found Allen being rushed to the hospital, his season most likely over and his career in doubt. Until the results of the MRI are revealed, all any of us can do is pray for the best.

The point of this plea is not to over blow the incident. Of course there are more tragic happenings in the world. But it’s easy to summarize it as such, which wouldn’t give credence to the personal turmoil such an injury has thrown this team and that player into.

In the best situations a basketball team is like a family and tonight that family took a hit. When Rivers talks about Allen as an emotional leader that sentiment transcends the court of play and digs into the hearts and minds of the other players that make up that family.

Imagine if you were suddenly faced with the loss of your vocation. Imagine if circumstance found you no longer able to pursue that which you were most passionate about. Take the one thing that you love most and remove it from possibility. For some of you, imagine if you couldn’t watch basketball again, nor discuss it ardently on this board.

That’s the situation that Allen now may face as he prepares himself for the road ahead. In the very least, a year’s worth of rehabilitation will be necessary and who’s to say at what level he’ll return.

An ACL injury isn’t the career death sentence it was a few decades earlier, but it is still no small thing. Each injury is unique, but the probability of returning to full strength is less than ideal and for a player who’s game was predicated on explosive speed and power…who can say?

While the fans in the Garden booed obliviously during the team’s third quarter collapse, the team was vicariously feeling the pain that Allen’s expression belayed just moments before as he writhed on the floor. At that moment the team was devoid of more than just the steals and deflections, the fearless forays to the basket and gritty put-backs that Allen provided. The team was a body missing their heart, lifeless.

Yet, there was more cheering for the possibility of a free t-shirt than there was an extended sense of sorrow at Allen’s loss. For a fan base that prides itself on its knowledge and passion for their local teams, there was very little recognition evident about what the team was going through. I’ve never seen such faces on a group of players before.

Say what you want about Doc Rivers, but tonight I saw clearly why this team an he are so close. The post-game press conference was a sobering a scene as I’ve seen. {styleboxjp width=300px,float=right,color=black,textcolor=white,echo=yes}Rivers looked visibly shaken at the podium, his eyes almost glistening and his voice unsteady. Rivers is known for his ability to put a situation into perspective and to sum up the realities of the moment with a fresh look toward tomorrow. Tonight he had no answers. {/styleboxjp}

In the games that follow this season, we’ll all get our chance to see the remaining players of this team have their shot at making a name for themselves. Friday’s game will be back to the X’s and O’s as life goes on. But just reflect for a moment before moving on. Remember how much these Celtic players have invested in each other and this team, a blend of livelihood and brotherhood. Tonight cut them deeply.

Anyone who’s experienced a close, personal loss should sympathize….

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