Can the Celtics count on Ray Allen this time around?

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Can the Celtics count on Ray Allen this time around?

BOSTON Tip-off is several hours away at the TD Garden, and things are quieter than usual.

There are a few ball boys getting up shots, but something's off.

No Ray Allen.

The clearest sign that Allen isn't right health-wise is the fact that he's nowhere to be found. He's not going through his pregame ritual that involves getting up shots - lots of shots - hours before the actual game starts.

Boston has found ways to make due without Allen all season, as evidenced by its 15-4 record in games in which he has not played.

But the C's know all too well that the playoffs are a different kind of animal. For the Celtics to have the kind of sustained playoff run they're hoping for, it becomes an all-hands-on-deck mission - Allen included.

Normally that wouldn't be an issue.

Throughout his 15-plus NBA seasons, there are few who have delivered in the clutch or stepped their game up as well as Allen.

In the eight seasons in which he has been in the playoffs, Allen's scoring average was better in the postseason five times. And of the three times he fell short, he was only off by 0.2 points or less per game.

But he's older now (he turns 37 in July) and has struggled for weeks with a right ankle injury that just won't seem to go away.

When you throw in the fact that he's now coming off the bench -- a role Allen isn't all that crazy about -- it raises lots of questions as to whether the C's can count on him the same way they have in past years . . . even if they themselves won't admit it.

"I don't ever worry about Ray," said Celtics captain Paul Pierce. "We know when he gets his opportunity, Ray will come through. He's been doing it his whole career. I don't expect that to change now."

But this is a different season, and Allen finds himself in a position unlike any he has been in throughout his Hall-of-Fame worthy career.

He is, like most NBA players, a creature of habit.

So, just like not being able to go through his usual pregame routine can throw him off rhythm-wise, you have to wonder if the whole concept of coming off the bench might derail his play some in the postseason.

Although he did approach coach Doc Rivers about coming off the bench, Allen is quick to clear up any ideas that being a sixth man was something he thought of on his own.

"I know it was being talked about a lot," Allen said of his being moved to a backup role. "I can't say that it was my idea. I don't ever want to come off the bench. If it can help the team, Rivers and I talked about it, I said if it can help the team, if that's what he needs me to do, I'll be all for it."

Allen has come off the bench four times this season, with Boston winning three of those four games.

Winning, more than anything else, is why the Celtics felt this move would work and why Allen has been willing to embrace his new role.

Allen's replacement, Avery Bradley, has given the team a defensive presence it simply lacked from Allen. And with Bradley's offensive game steadily improving, Bradley's defense and scoring contributions have come pretty darn close to filling the massive void left with Allen out of the lineup.

As for his play as a reserve, it's clear he becomes more of a focal point offensively with the second unit as opposed to being with the starters.

But statistically speaking, Allen's doing essentially the same things he did with the first unit.

For the season, he's averaging 14.2 points per game and gets 10.7 shot attempts. In the four games he came off the bench, he's averaging 14.3 points per game while averaging 11 shot attempts.

"At the end of the day, your minutes don't change," said Allen, who averaged 34 minutes as a starter, 31.8 coming off the bench. "That's one thing I'm very cognizant of when I'm out there on the floor. It's like an ego thing to start. My ego is not that big where I feel I need to start. But at the same time, I've done this for a long time and I prepared myself and I'd like to consider myself one of the best at what I do and give myself a chance and give the team a chance to win every night. So, it is tough. Avery's role out there, I try to prepare him the best I know how to kind of be on his toes and ready for whatever may happen. At the end of the day, this is Doc's ship. Whatever Doc wants and needs for us to do, we have to do it to try and win games."

But it remains to be seen if he'll physically be able to be one of those guys Rivers counts on in the playoffs to indeed help the Celtics advance past the Atlanta Hawks.

Rivers has maintained for weeks that he fully expects Allen to play in the postseason, shooting down any comparisons to the Shaquille O'Neal situation last season when O'Neal was limited to just 12 minutes in the playoffs because of an injury (calf) that never seemed to heal as well as it needed in order for him to play.

"I don't think it's quite the same, but there's a small similarity," C's president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, told CSNNE.com. "I think Shaq, in February of 2011, we thought he was going to be back. But in late March, we had serious doubts. We had hope, but we were still worried.

"Ray is not quite there yet. I think he's going to be back. I think he's going to have a great playoff run. That's what I think and believe, but at the same time, until he's doing it, I'll be worried."

The trio of Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett have been praised for how they have stepped their game up after the All-Star break to propel the Celtics to a fifth straight Atlantic Division title.

But Ainge recalls how Allen carried the Celtics early in the year when no one other than Rondo was playing particularly well.

"We might not have won any games had Allen not been making shots," Ainge said. "He was shooting the best of his career through the first 25 games. The team wasn't playing great, so people forget the impact that Ray was having for us early in the year."

Even though his numbers have cooled down, he's still shooting a career-best 45.3 percent on 3s this season.

"Ray was the guy that carried us the first half of the year, shooting 55 percent for the longest time, carrying us with his 3-point shooting early in the season when KG wasn't playing very well and Paul was hurt and sort of out of shape, not playing well," Ainge said. "Now those guys have really stepped it up, Ray's hurt."

Regardless of how he has played of late and his injury status, Ainge has seen enough of Allen to know that it probably won't be too much longer before Allen is back on the floor, hours before tip-off at the Garden, taking shots and getting ready to make some playoff noise.

Jae Crowder talks about constant trade rumors; love for Boston and Brad Stevens

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Jae Crowder talks about constant trade rumors; love for Boston and Brad Stevens

Celtics forward Jae Crowder talks with Mike Gorman and Brian Scalabrine talks about building on a breakthrough season last year, and the love for his head coach Brad Stevens, and for the city of Boston.

Also, Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely talk about what lies ahead for Crowder in 2016/17.

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Bradley knows the risks of his all-out brand of defense

Bradley knows the risks of his all-out brand of defense

WALTHAM – There are a number of NBA players we have seen through the years whose effort level has been questioned.
 
But when it comes to Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley, that has never been an issue.
 
In fact, Bradley’s all-out style of defense has been a major factor in him being sidelined for an extended period of time in each of his six NBA seasons.
 
Although he’s only 25 years old, Bradley is starting to embrace the idea of less all-out defense might not be such a bad idea.
 
“It’s hard to control my injuries because I play hard every single possession,” Bradley told CSNNE.com following the team’s first practice. “I can’t say that every NBA player doesn’t, but I know there’s not a lot. I play hard every single possession especially on the defensive end. That can take a toll on your body. I just have to make sure I’m taking care of myself and picking my spots a little better.”
 
Prior to the Celtics selecting Bradley with the 19th overall pick in the 2011, he suffered a dislocated shoulder injury. Throughout his five NBA seasons, the veteran guard has a long list of injuries which has sidelined him for at least five games every season in addition to missing some playoff games.
 
Knowing the risks involved in continuing his all-out brand of basketball, the fact that Bradley is even open to the idea of picking when to assert himself defensively and when to be more passive, is progress.
 
“I’m pretty sure someone like (ex-Celtics) Tony Allen …  he’s not going to go hard like every possession,” Bradley said. “He’s going to pick his spots, still play good defense.”
 
Which is exactly what Bradley is striving to do this season, and show that last season’s all-NBA First Team Defense nod wasn’t a fluke.

But as we have seen with Bradley throughout his career with the Celtics, he has a way of coming back every season having made a significant stride in some facet of the game to become closer to being a two-way player.
 
“That’s my goal; I want my teammates to be able to count on me playing well at both ends of the floor,” Bradley said.
 
And as I mentioned earlier, Bradley is still a relatively young guy who turns 26 years old in November.
 
‘I’m still a 90s baby’ just like everybody on this team,” quipped Bradley.
 
Being so young puts a premium of sorts on players to learn all they can as quickly as they can in relation to their respective team.
 
“I feel young; I feel young,” Bradley said. “I feel young. I still haven’t even played a full season yet. This will be my first season playing a whole season.”
 
Listening to Bradley talk about adjusting how he plays defensively, it’s pretty clear that he’s having an internal tug-of-war between continuing to play elite defense and easing up defensively.
 
“That’s just me. Some people can do it. Maybe I could take some (plays) off, play passing lanes,” Bradley said. “But I don’t think I’ll ever change into that. It could help our team out a little bit.”