Boston’s NBA Finals X-Factor is Tony Allen

By: 06.04.10

Because he’s turning 50 this year, my Dad is pulling for the Celtics to win the NBA championship. “They’re the old-school team,” he said earlier in the playoffs. In other words, he can look at Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace and not feel like he’s watching a bunch of kids.

But my Dad isn’t a full-time Celtics fan or even a full-fledged NBA fan. He has a hard time remembering who played in the Finals from year-to-year, so he has to keep asking me “Who’s that guy?” questions when it comes to Boston role players like Kendrick Perkins, Marquis Daniels and Big Baby Davis.

So last night’s Game 1 was like watching him go through a one-night SparkNotes version of The Tony Allen Experience, the same one true Celtics fan have been enduring for the last six years.

In the first quarter, when Tony was making aggressive drives to the cup and throwing up wild shots, Dad said, slightly annoyed, “Tony Allen is playing totally out of control.” (My response: “He always plays like that.”) Maybe 20 minutes later, Dad was yelling at the TV, “Man, take that guy out! He sucks!” after another Tony turnover. In less than one half of basketball, he’d seen Tony Allen’s potential, then seen his warts, then decided he didn’t like him. And I didn’t have the heart to tell him that if the Celtics are going to come back and beat the Lakers, Tony Allen will have to be a crucial X-factor.

In 16 minutes off the bench, Tony recorded 4 points (1-4 FG), zero assists, two turnovers and four fouls. With Ray on the bench for long stretches in foul trouble, Tony had to guard Kobe Bryant, to predictable results. His overall body of work — one highlight-reel dunk, some attempts to push the pace offensively, a tough effort on defense — should be about all you’d expect from a 6-4 athlete who’s short for a two-guard but can’t dribble or pass well enough for a point guard. But Tony has to play above and beyond expectations now if he’s going to earn his second championship ring.

If Game 1 is any indication, the older Celtics have to run to beat L.A., and Tony excels in the transition game. And even if the refs don’t decide to dick-slap Ray Allen like they did on Thursday, Tony will have to be a major contributor defensively in the group effort to slow down Kobe. Boston’s bench in general will have a lot to do with whether they can win four games over the next six, but Tony is the biggest key to that bench producing positive results. He can take the ball to the rack for a team that settled for too many jumpers last night. He can allow Ray and/or Paul Pierce time to rest their legs for the fourth quarter. About the only thing he can’t do is shoot threes, but Boston has enough guys capable of hitting those.

Look at how Tony played in the Cleveland series. He didn’t put up big numbers — his best stat line was a 15-point, 5-rebound, 2-steal effort in Game 4 — but he provided a spark on both ends of the floor and helped Boston more than he hurt with bad decisions and turnovers. It’s odd because his season splits say otherwise, but it seems to me that Tony is a better player at home than on the road (his FG percentage is up, turnovers are down) because he’s an energy player who feeds off the crowd.

When this series goes to Boston for Games 3, 4 and 5, Tony Allen has a chance to make his biggest impact and potentially swing things the Celtics way.

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