By A.Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON Tony Allen tossed up a couple of air balls. He was out of position defensively at times. He made a tough shot around the basket, and finished off a steal with a layup. He bit on a head-fake.
It was vintage Allen at his finest and most frustrating -- all wrapped up into one game.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, their ex-teammate played well enough for the Grizzlies to escape Boston with a 90-87 win.
Allen, starting in place of former UConn star Rudy Gay, who is expected to miss the rest of the season and the playoffs, had eight points and seven rebounds.
Players often talk about their first game back against a former team as being just another game.
Allen wasn't going to go there.
As he made his way to the arena Wednesday afternoon, it finally sunk in that he was back in Boston as the enemy.
So when the final horn sounded and the Grizzlies had the victory, there was no masking his excitement and jubilation.
"I can't sit here and say I didn't want to win, this one felt a little different," Allen said. "I wanted to win this one more than anything."
While Allen's play as a Celtic often ran the gamut from maddening to marvelous, the Celtics were still confident -- too confident, actually -- that he would re-sign when he became a free agent last summer.
"I did think he was coming back," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I was surprised that he didn't. Obviously the negotiations got in the way, and that's why he didn't come back."
Rivers added, "in my mind, we probably assumed he would re-sign . . . and then you lose him."
With his new role, the 29-year-old Allen finds himself being called upon to be more of a leader.
And when he thinks about what he has to do in order to handle that job effectively, he quickly falls back on his days with the Celtics when he would see the leadership of the team's Big Three on a daily basis.
"I'm more vocal in Memphis, as if I was Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce," Allen said. "They were the most vocal guys here. I kind of just looked at what they were doing. They were the realest. If something was going wrong in a game, and they'd speak on it and don't let it get out of hand. That's pretty much what I do with our guys."