When Tony Allen signed a three-year contract with Memphis this summer, he entered into the next stage of his career. But so far this season, he and the Grizzlies have been trying to figure each other out. Then it happened. He finally broke through. Last night in a win over the Raptors, Allen scored 14 points along with a season-high eight rebounds, a season-high six steals, two assists, and a block and a season-high 34 minutes of action. In a Dime exclusive, Allen talks about his first year away from Boston, his rep as a defender and everything you need to know about Paul Pierce.
Dime: What’s it been like this year being away from Boston? You were there for so long.
Tony Allen: Yeah, I was there for so long. It’s a place I truly miss. I have good friends over there from the (video) editing guy to the janitors to the massage therapist. I have a good group of friends over there, you know? I miss those guys, but I’m in a new situation now and I am embracing it. I’m definitely enjoying my time here so far.
Dime: Now that you are in Memphis, is there a different mentality at all? You went from being on a really old team to one that has a lot of young guys.
TA: Yeah, I’m basically just fitting in and basically letting these guys know what it takes to win. We are pretty much trying to lay a defensive foundation over here and just letting them know that those guys (in Boston) are very talented. But everybody in the NBA is talented. It’s going to take another step to move forward and getting the defensive schemes down pat to get over the edge.
Dime: What was the hardest thing about leaving Boston?
TA: The hardest thing? The hardest thing about leaving Boston was leaving the Ubuntu family, our African proverb over there that they say all the time. It’s called Ubuntu. Leaving that foundation and that core group of guys that instilled in me that everybody is a piece of a puzzle. And just everybody being together for each other and focusing on one goal, being a part of all that and then just getting up and leaving, it was tough. For the most part, I had to make a decision that was going to put me in another stage of my career. But I’m enjoying what I’m doing over here now so, that’s just a chapter in my book. I definitely, definitely, definitely enjoyed it.
Dime: I wanted to talk to you a little bit about your rep as a defender. When did you really start to take defense seriously? Was that something that you started as a little kid or was it just the role that you were playing in the NBA?
TA: I don’t mind playing defense. I don’t mind. If that’s what a coach wants me to do on the court, I don’t mind that. But trust and believe I’m taking advantage of any offensive opportunities that I get. It is what it is. I don’t mind competing because at the end of the day, that’s all it is. Competing. I just like to compete.
Dime: Could you talk to me a little bit about how you play shooters differently than guys who are real athletic or slashers. Obviously with the shooters, you are up on them and play them tight, but is there anything that you look for that you might use against different types of guys.
TA: No, I pretty much just study the team’s offense. I look at the most possible options that they could have in those offensive sets and I just try to compete. That’s it. That’s all.
Dime: You were mentioning that you study a lot. Is there a whole lot besides that to actually work on your defense or is it just sort of the commitment to actually doing it?
TA: It’s just playing harder than your opponent. You pretty much lure them to a bad spot so you can get the stop.
Dime: You are pretty well known now for your defense. How much of that do you think came from the way you’ve been guarding Kobe the past couple of years?
TA: I don’t know. I really don’t pay attention to any of that stuff. I really go out and try to win ballgames. I really don’t care if someone says, “Oh, he’s a defender.” If you look at the Cleveland series when we played them last year, I scored the ball just as much as I defended. I averaged the same amount of points as Paul Pierce in that series. When you talk about Tony Allen, I just want to be remembered as a guy who could help win ballgames.
Dime: Do you still feel like your role on Memphis is the same as it was in Boston?
TA: Pretty much. We have some talented scorers and some talented post men. We have kind of the same type of guys that are pretty crafty with the ball and can make plays. My role here is to come in defend, rebound and take open shots, drive to the basket and pretty much make simple plays. We are doing a solid job and are starting to win more games. I just look at it as being one of the facilitating guys on the team.
Dime: I wanted to ask you about your boy, Paul Pierce. In watching him for so long, what stood out about him or what did you learn from him?
TA: I learned that preparation is key to everything. Staying ready and just preparing for the challenge. Watching him before every season, I saw him getting a gang of shots up before every season, before every practice, just getting in his conditioning before practice. I saw him getting his weights in before practice. I saw him paying attention at shootaround when his opponent that he is about to face is coming up. His focus before (practice) and his intensity during practice. Just being competitive. I just instilled that from him and I always competed with him during practice. The way he practices is just the way he plays. He plays hard and he practices hard so I try to carry that over as much as I can in my regimen.
Dime: What about Pierce’s attitude? He had a rep for a while. People thought of him as a selfish player. But as the years have gone on, that has kind of changed.
TA: He’s never down. He’s the most confident person in the world. I saw games where he went 3-for-17 and pretty much shot us out of the game. But he always had the confidence and the mentality to say to himself, “You know what? Those odd shots that I missed? I guarantee that I won’t miss them next game.” Then the next game he comes out and probably has 35. The way he deals with consistency and how he practices to be prepared, it’s almost like he has the right to be and has the confidence…He has the right to be selfish because he’s a winner and he definitely knows how to win. That reputation that he had, you have to know him in order to judge him. He’s definitely one of the most confident players that I’ve competed against or that I’ve known.
Dime: It seems like at times he might be a tad underrated when people talk about the greatest Celtics of all-time. Do you agree? Do you think he should be considered in that class?
TA: I definitely think he should be. Before practice, he used to tell me to stick him because the most prolific players in the League ain’t doing some of the stuff that he’s doing. He would tell me if I’m sticking him, there ain’t too much that LeBron is going to do different from him. If I stick him, there ain’t too much Joe Johnson is going to do different from him. He knows that I’m a good defender. We pretty much competed a lot. So when they talk about the greatest players and all of this and that with the Celtics, trust and believe Paul Pierce has my vote.
Dime: Give me a name of a guy who you’ve guarded before that is tough to guard that most people wouldn’t think.
TA: Paul Pierce. I gotta go back to him. He’s not one of the quickest guys in the world. He’s not one of the most athletic guys in the world. But on any given night, you will look up and he will have 30-something points on you. And not only 30-something points, but he will have 10 or 12 rebounds and maybe six or seven assists. I just think with a guy like that, you pretty much can’t give him anything. You can’t give him a wide-open jump shot. You can’t pressure the ball because he knows how to draw fouls and knows how to get defenders in the air with his pump fake. His midrange game is strong and now he’s shooting the three-ball better than ever. So, I would just have to say Paul Pierce.
Dime: Obviously, you guys started a little slower than what you wanted to. The rest of the way, what are you looking to improve on in order to make a run at the playoffs?
TA: We just have to build consistency and playing hard every night and trust in each other on the defensive end, just going out there and sticking to the game plan. If we are going to lose, lets lose by doing what we planned to do coming into the game. I think we tend to go off and try to do our own thing and everyone tries to win it for themselves or win it for the team, but at the end of the day, it has to be a team effort and it’s going to have to be team wins. I think we have the right tools to do it, but we just have to do it on both ends for 48 minutes throughout the season.
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