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The Undeniable Tony Allen

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The first portion of this article - the one you're reading right now - should have been written weeks ago, just as Paul Pierce was returning from his right knee infection. Pierce missed five games, with Tony Allen serving as his replacement in the starting lineup. I wrote this piece about TA on Christmas Eve - also the eve of his first start in place of Pierce - and then was pleasantly surprised by the results.

In the five games in which Allen filled in for Pierce, he posted very respectable averages of 31.6 minutes, 11.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.0 steals and 3.0 turnovers. Granted, the Celtics were just 2-3 over this five-game stretch, but Allen filled in for Pierce as well as any other player on the roster could have hoped to. 

While the C's needed more of a scoring punch from Allen amidst Pierce's absence, with the captain back in the fold these days, Allen has shed that offensive burden and can now focus on what many thought would be his strength since he entered the league: defense. When the Celtics finally boast a healthy roster, any scoring from Allen is pure gravy, as it will be his defense that will keep him in Doc Rivers' rotation. 

Tony Allen's been a perpetual work in progress ever since he was drafted by the Celtics in 2004, as he's been consistently inconsistent whenever the Celtics have needed to rely on him most. That message rang most true last season, with the Celtics sporting a depleted bench in the wake of James Posey's departure. Allen was deemed a Posey-esque replacement, not necessarily with the intangibles, but particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The end result was a maddeningly inconsistent season from Allen - in which he played just 46 games - culminating in a thumb injury that ruined the second half of his season and any hope of truly contributing in the playoffs.

Fortunately for the Celtics, team architect Danny Ainge sought support for his key players - particularly Pierce - and brought in substantial additions in Marquis Daniels and Rasheed Wallace, while also retaining Eddie House and Glen Davis. Suddenly, Allen was expendable - especially considering the rumors floating around in the offseason that Ainge was looking to ship him to Indiana as part of a package to obtain Daniels via trade. With Pacers GM Larry Bird supposedly shooting down the offer of Allen because of past legal troubles, the Celtics settled for signing Daniels via free agency, which forced TA to the far end of Boston's bench. 

Making matters worse for Allen was the severe right ankle injury he suffered over the offseason, which forced him to miss the first month of the season. Couple that with Daniels' arrival and highly regarded versatility, along with Rivers' tendency to play one of his starters with four bench players, and Allen's chances of finding the court were arguably the lowest of his career with the Celtics. At of the start of the season, Allen was flirting dangerously with being officially regarded as "Tony Allen's Expiring Contract". 

But injuries play an interesting role in professional sports, and can often change the fate of certain players on a roster. When Daniels suffered a significant left thumb injury early in December, the Celtics relied on their steadfast belief that the next player on the depth chart simply step in to fill the role of the injured. As fate would have it, that player was Allen. Daniels underwent successful thumb surgery on December 9 and Allen produced his first meaningful game of the season on December 10 against the Washington Wizards - scoring eights points in 17 minutes on 4-5 shooting, while providing a much needed spark off the bench. 

Allen continued to log double-digit minutes until Pierce went down after the December 22 game against the Pacers, and performed well enough in Pierce's absence for Rivers to keep him in the mix upon Pierce's return. 

But now, with Daniels set to return at some point within the next month, Allen's value to this team once again comes into question. Ironically though, he's played so well throughout Daniels' absence, that even though the Celtics might not absolutely need Allen, they might not be able to justifiably deny him. His overall game has been consistent enough, he's performed to his expected level on defense and he's kept his "boneheaded" plays to a minimum. You know, those plays where you might ask yourself what's going through that head of his. Now that the Celtics don't necessarily need him to perform, he's having arguably his most consistent and productive season to date. His contributions have been valued and because of that consistency this season, there is next to no reason for the Celtics to think they cannot rely on him. 

His expiring contract would be a valuable tool if the Celtics were searching for another addition before the February 18 trading deadline, and the C's will need to ask themselves whether Allen's production so far this season has been valuable enough for them to deem him more important to the team than another player who could be acquired via trade.

For those who want to ask 'Why now?' for Tony Allen, there are reasonable options on the table. First, it is a contract year for Allen and the popular belief that professional athletes perform when the money is on the line comes into play. Second, Allen has finally found a sense of comfort and security with his minutes that allows him to enter each game not wondering whether or not he'll find the court. Third, for possibly the first time since the first days of his rookie season, Allen is actually sporting a clean bill of health. No muscles, joints or ligaments are halting his physical gifts which would in turn hinder his production. And finally, maybe Allen finally just "gets it". It's difficult to clearly define that phrase in regards to professional sports, but so many athletes have the physical gifts to succeed but can't seem to wrap their heads around the entire process. Gerald Green still is a freak of an athlete, blessed with unworldly talent, but his inability to "get it" has so far doomed him in the NBA. Perhaps Allen suffered from a similar syndrome, but has finally shed that diagnosis. 

Whatever the reason might be for Allen's revival, he's finally contributing to the Celtics in a meaningful way, and even though he might not be fully needed upon Daniels' return, Allen has thus far made sure that he cannot be denied.