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Unlike Starks, Ray Allen lives to shoot another day

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, left, drives

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, left, drives against Boston Celtics guard Ray Allen (20) during the first quarter in Game 3 of the NBA basketball finals Tuesday, June 8, 2010, in Boston. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Credit: AP Photo/Winslow Townson

BOSTON -- Ray Allen was feeling the pressure all night long so when he stepped out of the Celtics training room and was met by a large gathering of media awaiting, it seemed fitting that he slashed and battled his way through the imposition and headed for his locker stall. Then he faced the reality of a night that was such a stunning reversal of fortunes after a record-setting performance in the previous game.

0-for-13 (0-for-8 from three-point range) is a painful statistic in an NBA Finals game. But it's nothing compared to what Dennis Johnson (0-for-14 in 1979) and John Starks (2-for-18, 0-for-11 from downtown in 1994) suffered through in respective Game 7s.

"I never hang my head," Allen said in the early morning hours after Tuesday's Game 3 loss to the Lakers here in Boston. "Tomorrow is always another opportunity to get right back on track."

That's exactly the mentality a shooter has to have: keep shooting. You always believe the next shot will go in.

Only a game before, Ray was drawing (a bit overstated) comparisons to Michael Jordan's unconscious displays of marksmanship in the Finals when he nailed a record eight three-pointers en route to 32 points in Boston's Game 2 win.

"That's why you always got to be humble," Allen said.

It was such a vintage performance for the soon-to-be 35-year-old veteran that you had to believe his market value as a free agent this summer was skyrocketing. If the Celtics don't try to keep him at a reasonable price, you can bet the Knicks would love to bring him in not only for the fact that he's a perfect fit in this system as a catch-and-shoot gunner, but because his professionalism would bring a much-needed credibility to the locker room.

Regardless of the 0-fer, Allen has shown in the postseason that he has kept his body in tremendous shape and can still play at a very high level. The 2010 plan may not yield LeBron James, so the Knicks have to be aggressive in building a contending team with the right pieces. You don't give Allen, at 35, a max contract, but he brings great value both on and off the court. The Knicks are looking for shooters this summer, with Kyle Korver and Mike Miller potential targets. Ray Allen may cost more, but he'd be worth more, too.

With the series at 2-1 in favor of the Lakers, Allen still has plenty of time to overcome this nightmare and help the Celtics win a second NBA title in three years. For Dennis Johnson, who was never known to be a great shooter, it was a self-proclaimed "choke" that he was able to overcome years later when he won titles with the Celtics.

But for Starks, a three-point specialist in the Knicks Bomb Squad Era, there was no chance to bounce back. There was only bounce-out after bounce-out, brick after brick. But, like Allen, only one game prior the ball just kept going in. Starks had 27 points in Game 6 and had the championship perched in his hand in the closing seconds, but Hakeem Olajuwon got a finger on it to change the course of the shot, and history.

Pat Riley stuck with Starks through it and left Rolando Blackman on the bench. It's something Riley later admitted to me that haunts him almost as much as it haunts Starks.

"I always think I could have done something a little more," Riley told me at his Hall of Fame induction in 2008. "I look back and I always second-guess myself on that series."

But it's understandable because you tend to believe in your best shooters, just like they are trained to believe in themselves. The next one is sure to go in.

Unlike Starks, Ray Allen has the opportunity to find out.


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