MIAMI – Ray Allen had made a total of 3,230 3-pointers in the regular season, playoffs and All-Star Games in his 16-year career entering Game 6 of the NBA Finals. None, however, might mean more to the NBA’s all-time 3-pointer leader – or to the Miami Heat – than the clutch one he hit in with 5.2 seconds left in Tuesday night’s fourth quarter.
“He kept our season alive,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said.
The Spurs were seconds away from winning their fifth NBA title. Sturdy yellow tape had been pulled around the court by ushers to block the floor for the championship coronation. Nearby rested bags filled with T-shirts and hats proclaiming that the Spurs 2013 NBA champions.
LeBron James was on the verge of falling to 1-3 in the Finals as the Heat trailed 95-92 with 19.4 seconds left.
Miami’s fate looked even bleaker after James missed a possible tying 3-pointer after it bounced off the left side of the rim. If the Spurs get the rebound, the title is theirs. But despite having three Spurs nearby, Bosh wasn’t boxed out and he grabbed the ball before quickly tossing it to Allen in the corner.
Allen immediately stepped behind the 3-point line. These are the type of situations he has worked on tirelessly his entire career after practice – and also three hours before games when most players haven’t arrived to the arena. With James holding both hands in the air behind the 3-point line and screaming for the ball, Allen didn’t look toward the NBA’s MVP. Instead, he rose up and buried the game-tying shot, his only 3-pointer of the game, with 5.2 seconds left. He later made two clutch free throws in OT as the Heat won 103-100.
“Whether C.B. threw me the ball or not, I had to get myself in a position where I was ready,” Allen said. “Once the ball came off the rim, I just knew get to the 3‑point line. We need a three. Two points isn’t going to cut it. So my mental checklist is really to have my legs ready and underneath me, so when the ball comes, if it comes, I was ready to go in the air.
“Once I get my legs there, I let the ball go. I’m going to give myself the best chance to make it.”
James wasn’t upset once he realized Allen was the one shooting.
“If it’s not me taking the shot, I have no problem with Ray taking that shot, man,” James said. “He’s got ice water in his veins. Ray can be 0 for 99 in a game and if he gets an open look late in the game, it’s going down. That’s just the confidence he has in himself.
“It’s the preparation that he prepares for every game. It’s the confidence that we have in him. We’ve seen it before. We’re happy to have him on our side. And this is the reason why we wanted him in games like this.”
Allen had been a longtime pain to James while playing for the Boston Celtics. After the Celtics nearly traded him to the Memphis Grizzlies last season – and after his relationship with Boston point guard Rajon Rondo detoriated – Allen entered free agency last summer and received a warm welcome from James, who recruited him to come to the Heat.
“I called him, texted him. I just knew what he could bring to our team,” James said. “I’ve been on the other end of seeing him get them feet down, putting them stupid two fingers after he makes the shot.”
The Celtics offered Allen a two-year, $12 million contract. Allen, however, left Boston to take a smaller deal ($9 million over three years) with the Heat. Celtics fans booed Allen during his return visit to Boston. Celtics coach Doc Rivers and some of Allen’s former teammates also expressed disappointment with him.
Tuesday night’s memorable shot – one of the biggest in Finals history – came long after the Celtics lost in the first round. Allen got the last laugh and validated his decision to join the Heat.
“When I parted ways with Boston, they went in their direction and obviously I went in mine,” Allen said. “The minute I got here, this team made me feel welcome. I didn’t win last year with this team, but they made me feel a part of it. So the redemption has been winning 66 games this year, and having the best record in the NBA, making it to the playoffs and getting to this point, and being with a great group of guys.”
Allen played for the Celtics the last time the Finals went to a Game 7 in 2010, when Boston lost 83-79 to the Los Angeles Lakers. Now 37, Allen already sees one benefit compared to three years ago. The Heat are at home, and the home time has won the past five Finals Game 7s.
“The last Game 7 I was a part of, you know, you felt there was just a thickness in the air where everything seemed like it was against you,” Allen said. “We [the Celtics] even had a lead coming into the fourth quarter, and we just ran out of gas. That’s where when you play in front of your home building, it gives you so much momentum.”
How high Allen ranks Tuesday’s shot in his career will be determined by whether the Heat win Game 7.
“It’s going to be a shot that I’m going to remember for a long time,” he said.