EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) -Things had gotten so bad that Ray Allen was in danger of being downgraded from the Big Three to third wheel.
A career 20-point scorer who was the catalyst in bringing Boston from the draft lottery to the brink of a title, Allen was mired in the biggest slump of his postseason career before snapping out of it in the NBA finals against the Lakers.
With 19 points and nine rebounds in Game 4, Allen helped the Celtics beat Los Angeles 97-91 and open a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. While he was dangerous from outside, he also had a pair of backbreaking layups in the final minutes as Boston completed its unprecedented rally from a 24-point deficit.
``Ray's a scorer, not a shooter,'' Celtics guard Eddie House said, listing a variety of drives, catch-and-shoots, fallaways and plain old jumpers in his All-Star teammate's repertoire. ``He gives you a smorgasbord of moves.''
No matter what Allen did during the season - or does in whatever playoff games remain - his biggest contribution to the team probably came during the summer, when the Celtics acquired him for the No. 5 draft pick they were saddled with in the lottery.
It was only then, after Allen joined up with Paul Pierce, that Kevin Garnett agreed to the deal that put the final piece in the Big Three and propelled the Celtics to the biggest single-season turnaround in NBA history.
``When they got Ray Allen, I told (Garnett), 'You'd better get to Boston,''' said Sam Cassell, who played with Allen in Milwaukee and Garnett in Minnesota before joining them both with the Celtics midseason.
``I played with Ray five years in Milwaukee. Ray's still the same guy,'' Cassell said. ``If you run into Ray, you wouldn't know if he had 20 points or five points. His demeanor doesn't change.''
It's true.
Even as his scoring slumped early in the playoffs, Allen insisted that he wasn't concerned as long as the Celtics kept moving on.
``I've scored my whole career, and to not score - it didn't affect me at all,'' Allen said before practice on Saturday. ``We're winning games, and I was just trying to figure out how to make plays for the team, to make this team better.''
Sill, he admitted it was a learning experience.
``Yeah, I want to score to help this team out,'' he said. ``But if they're taking that away from me, (I have to) figure something else out.''
An eight-time All-Star well on his way to 20,000 career points, Allen understood that his scoring would decrease when he arrived in Boston. After averaging 26.4 points per game last year, he had just 17.4 this season as he got in line behind Pierce and Garnett.
``I got here, and the ball was going to Kevin and Paul most of the time,'' Allen said. ``I just had to take a back seat and just be ready when my number was called.''
But what happened in the playoffs wasn't about passing up shots; it was about missing them. In a nine-game span from the finale of the first round to the opener of the Eastern Conference finals, Allen averaged nine points on 31 percent shooting.
``I personally didn't think was struggling. I just think I wasn't scoring,'' he said. ``I was still playing the game, how the game was dictating me to play. Whether I scored or I made shots, we still won games.''
And through it all, he never wavered.
Like any star shooter - sorry, scorer - in a slump, Allen just kept firing them up there until they resumed falling. And, in the meantime, he kept playing defense, kept making passes, kept going after loose balls and rebounds.
``I've always considered myself a basketball player,'' he said. ``I've scored a lot of points, and will continue to score points. But I also love passing, I love rebounding, I love doing things that make my teammates better.
``And that's going to be my ultimate objective: to try to make this team better so we can win a championship.''
Thanks to Allen, they're almost there.
He is averaging 20 points and six rebounds in the finals, making 12-of-25 from 3-point range. On Thursday night, Allen made a baseline reverse layup that faked out half the Lakers on the court, then blew past Sasha Vujacic for an easy layup that gave Boston a 96-91 lead with 16 seconds left.
``He's allowed to drive because he has a great jump shot,'' Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. ``He just lifted his head, looked at the rim. Defensively, you have to react to that because he's such a great shooter; when you're not, you can look at the rim all day and it's not going to make them come up and defend the guy any closer.''
While Garnett's intensity is visible and Pierce is a slap-on-the-back kind of teammate, Allen is no less a leader.
``They're just all different in a lot of ways,'' Rivers said. ``You can call him the mentor of the group with a lot of the young guys. He enjoys that role. He does it. And the young guys actually listen sometimes.''

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