C's look for win vs. Heat despite sideshow atmosphere

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C's look for win vs. Heat despite sideshow atmosphere

BOSTON The long-awaited return of Ray Allen to the TD Garden to face his former team isn't going to have quite the sizzle that many anticipated when the schedules came out in the summer.

Allen's first game against his former team is just one of the many story lines in what would be a big game regardless of whether he joined forces with the C's biggest nemesis.

If not for a game-for-the-ages performance by LeBron James on this same TD Garden in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Heat would not be defending NBA champions and potentially, Allen might not be a member of the Heat.

More important to the Celtics than Allen's return, is their return to actually winning a game - something they have failed to do in their last six games which is something that never happened during Allen's five seasons with Boston.

Adding to the C's misery is they come into Sunday's game off what was one of the biggest collapses in franchise history, blowing a 27-point lead to the Atlanta Hawks who rallied for a 123-111 double overtime win Friday night.

As the Celtics (20-23) continue to try and fight their way through what has been a difficult and trying season, Allen's return and how the fans will treat him is the farthest thing from the mind of most of the C's right now.

"We're just trying to win games right now," C's guard Avery Bradley told CSNNE.com. "That's the only thing we're thinking about right now."

Maybe so, but that doesn't take away from the sideshow atmosphere that will surely engulf the TD Garden courtesy of Allen's decision to take his talents to South Beach rather than re-sign with Boston for significantly more money.

"I don't want it to distract these guys from everybody doing their job and being ready to play," Allen told reporters in Miami.

Allen's departure and the many elements that played a role in it, speaks volumes about how quickly things changed for him shortly after the C's won it all in 2008.

From that point on, Allen was the subject of trade rumors and was very close to being dealt to the Memphis Grizzlies for O.J. Mayo shortly before last year's trading deadline.

Always being on the trading block, coupled with an evolving role on the court that he did not feel comfortable with, made the decision to join forces with an arch-rival easier.

Allen lost his starting job to an up-and-coming Avery Bradley last season, begrudgingly becoming the team's sixth man.

And when the offseason came around, the Celtics didn't waste much time in signing then-free agent Jason Terry which was seen by many as a replacement for Allen who was an unrestricted free agent. The C's did offer Allen a multi-year deal for significantly more money than the Heat, but the Terry signing most likely meant fewer minutes for Allen if he did decide to re-sign with the Celtics.

Those were just some of the factors that eventually led to him signing with the Heat, a decision that has worked out quite well for both Allen and the Heat.

Miami, the reigning NBA champions, have the best record in the Eastern Conference with Allen playing a key part in that success.

He has appeared in 39 games (all coming off the bench) for Miami this season, averaging 11.4 points while playing 25.5 minutes per game.

There's no telling how Allen will handle his return emotionally, or what kind of reception he'll get from the Celtics fans who Allen knows all too well can be an unforgiving bunch when they feel betrayed - a sentiment many around New England felt when Allen joined the Miami Heat.

'It's an interesting concept because I've always gotten a warm welcome (in Boston)," Allen told reporters in Miami. "Even before I started playing there. I just want to win. Everything else will take care of itself."

As was the case at the start of the season, the Celtics have had little to say on Allen's departure.

Kevin Garnett said he didn't reach out to Allen this summer because he lost his phone number. And in their first meeting at the start of the season in Miami, Allen made his way towards the Celtics bench only for chilly non-greeting, greeting from Garnett who at the time looked away.

There's no telling what level of interaction there will be among the Celtics players and Allen Sunday afternoon.

But like most games involving these two, it will be worth watching for sure.

And Allen's return is just another storyline to pay attention to.

"There's a lot of stories, but you can throw records out the window when we play Boston," said Miami's Dwyane Wade. "It's significant because we have Ray Allen and it's his first time back, but we're going on the road and we want to play well and it's a tough place to play."

Blakely's five thoughts from the Green and White Scrimmage

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Blakely's five thoughts from the Green and White Scrimmage

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BOSTON – As has been customary with the Celtics in recent years, their open practice on Friday night featured a pair of 10-minute scrimmages pitting the “Green” team of starters against the “White” team of reserves.
 
The White team, which apparently has been kicking the Green team’s butt for a good chunk of camp, emerged with a 33-26 win. And the Green team had to rally to win the second scrimmage, 24-18.

Similar to summer league, you can’t read too much into what happened and what didn’t happen on Friday night.
 
That said, there were a number of clear and undeniable positives for the Celtics to take from the game and hopefully build upon them going forward.
 
 
5. Al Horford's leadership established
 
The first player’s voice that the 6,000-plus fans at the TD Garden heard from was Al Horford and don’t think for a minute that was just happenstance.
 
For all the scoring and rebounding and defending that the Celtics will look for Horford to do, it is his ability to lead this team that separates him from most of his NBA brethren.
 
The fact that he’s a four-time All-Star speaks to what he has done in this league as a player. But even more telling is that was the fact that he’s been to the playoffs every year he has been in the NBA. And during that span of nine years, he has been pivotal in leading Atlanta beyond the first round – a primary goal for him and the Celtics this season – five times.
 
 
4. Celtics defense could be an elite unit this season
 
The Celtics were a top-10 defensive team last season, and have every reason to believe that they’ll be even better now. Boston has a trio of Pit Bull-like defenders on the perimeter in Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and All-NBA first team defender Avery Bradley. Throw in Jae Crowder’s defensive versatility at the wing along with a pair of upper echelon rim-protectors in Amir Johnson and Al Horford and the Celtics no longer are a team that can put a couple good defenders on the floor at one time. They actually have the depth now to go with a ‘Big’ all-defensive team or a ‘small ball’ all-defensive team which provides the kind of versatility that should result in Boston being a top-3 defensive team this season.
 
 
3. Marcus Smart poised for breakout season
 
Smart seemed about as comfortable as we’ve seen him on Friday, showcasing his range as a shooter while still being able to get after it defensively. Based on what he has done in terms of improving his game, Smart seems more likely to play off the ball than on it. With his size, strength, athleticism and ability to defend multiple positions that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If Boston does indeed have one of those magical-type seasons, Smart is a player that has the potential to help significantly. He understands the Celtics’ system inside and out, and is doing what young players on the rise should do – show growth as a player.
 
 
2. James Young playing best basketball at right time
 
These are some pretty stressful times for James Young, but you wouldn’t know it by the extremely cool demeanor he has exuded. Although it has only been a few short days of training camp, James Young has stepped up his game knowing anything less than his best could result in him being waived and potentially on his way out of the NBA. During the first Green-White scrimmage on Friday night, Danny Ainge said there were five guys essentially fighting for two roster spots. He didn’t single out Young specifically, but it’s no secret that the 21-year-old who is heading into third NBA season is among the players in that group. To Young's credit, he's doing a lot of those little things such as playing solid defense, getting deflections and making "hockey assists" to show he belongs in the NBA and more significantly, should remain a Celtic. 
  
1. Terry Rozier's tremendous strides
 
Rozier was the star of the two scrimmages the Celtics put on in front of about 6,000 people at the TD Garden Friday night. He scored, got assists, rebounded … he did it all. What impressed me the most about him was his defense on Isaiah Thomas. Rozier loves Thomas and respects the hell out of him. But Rozier  has made no secret about wanting to get more playing time this year, and is out to snatch some of the minutes from anyone ahead of him, Thomas included. We saw the tenacious potential Rozier has as an on-the-ball defender, but he seems to have taken that up a notch from his rookie season. And the confidence he has in his shot-making is undeniable. We saw that in summer league and it’s good to see that he brought it with him into training camp. Ditto for his decision-making and leading of the team at the point which are also areas in which he has improved but still needs to continue to get better at on a more consistent basis. There’s no doubt at this point Rozier will play this season and likely get a lion’s share of the minutes vacated by Evan Turner’s departure to Portland.