Monday, March 26, 2018

Schott's Book Review: From The Outside: My Journey Through Life and the Game I Love

(Photo by Jason Schott/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Jason Schott (@JESchott19)

From The Outside: My Journey Through Life and the Game I Love
By Ray Allen, with Michael Arkush
Dey Street Books, Hardcover, available Tuesday, March 27

Ray Allen is one of the greatest shooters in NBA history, especially known for draining them from behind the arc, and set the record for most three-pointers made in the process.

Allen, who displayed an incomparable work ethic in his 18-year career, won two NBA championships, one with the Boston Celtics in 2008, and a second with the Miami Heat in 2013.

In a very engaging and revealing work, From The Outside: My Journey Through Life and the Game I LoveAllen writes about growing up in a military family, one that taught him about responsibility and respect, and led to the laser focus that made him one of the greatest players in NBA history. It was this unwavering commitment to routine that he learned at a young age that translated into a sharply defined philosophy of how the game should be played – one that inspired players like LeBron James, and at times, divided Allen from power-hungry colleagues and coaches.

From The Outside reveals the nuanced man underneath the driven superstar, one whose outward manifestations are the result of his internal sense of identity, purpose, and at times, struggle. Allen tells plenty of stories of what it was like to join up with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in Boston, and then the challenge of jumping ship to join LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012.

Allen joined the Celtics in the summer of 2007, while Garnett came soon after from Minnesota, to join Pierce, who was already the star in Boston. The question of who would be the leader among these three elite players was inevitable.

Allen writes of what his dynamic with Garnett and Pierce was like in the beginning, “One thing we had in common, however, was our willingness to sacrifice. For me, that meant I’d no longer be counted on to score at least 20 points a game, as I did in every season from 1999 through 2007. No problem. What exactly did those points get me, anyway? Not a trip to the Finals, I’ll tell you that."

“Still, not being the number-one option would take some getting used to. In Seattle, I averaged roughly 19 shots per game. By comparison, during my first five starts in Boston, I averaged about 13. So, instead of taking almost any shot to work myself into a good shooting rhythm, I had to be more selective, waiting for the best first shot that was available; my goal, you see, was always to shoot at least 50 percent. That’s how efficient Michael Jordan was. People say Michael took a lot of shots, and he did, but he averaged almost 50 percent over his whole career – 49.7 percent, to be exact."

“If anything, I might have been too unselfish. It wasn’t that way at first. Any time I had a decent look at a three, I let it go. Except (Celtics head coach) Doc (Rivers) would then get in my face during the next timeout."

“‘You see Kevin Garnett in the block,’ he said, ‘you throw him the ball.’"

“Nothing against KG – he was almost automatic in the lane – but to that point in my career, in similar situations, the coaches had always urged me to take the shot. Which I did, and it made no difference who was in the block. Some years, I hit over 40 percent of my threes. Besides, if I had thrown the ball to KG he would have given it right back and come out to set a screen for me. There were times we had to tell him to shoot more."

“As the season wore on and he saw how hard I worked to prepare myself for each game, Doc became more comfortable with me taking the shot and actually encouraged it. The three became a weapon for us."

“‘You guys have the best shooter in the NBA on your team,’ Doc told the others. ‘Get him the ball. I never mind if Ray Allen takes the shot.’"

“Yet I still didn’t get enough touches, which frustrated me the most when I was going through a rough stretch. Usually, in those situations, the coach calls a play to get the guy a good look. See the ball fall through the net just once, and it’s amazing how quickly your confidence will return. Doc called plays constantly for Paul Pierce."

“‘We got to get Paul going,’ he’d tell us."

“I wish, every once in a while, he would have said, ‘We got to get Ray going.’ I was someone, after all, they counted on to hit a three or make the free throws to put the game away."

“‘Mariano, we need you,’ my teammates would say, referring to the New York Yankees’ star closer, Mariano Rivera. ‘Go in there and make a shot.’"

“I was ready to do just that, but it would’ve been much easier if I had been able to warm up, as Rivera did, instead of going through long periods without touching the ball. In Seattle, I rarely missed a free throw during the fourth quarter. Having had the ball in my hands on most of the possessions down the stretch, I stayed in rhythm.”

While most Celtics fans would agree that he was the closer of that team, hitting one game winning shot after another, they will probably cringe when reading that he was nicknamed after a Yankee closer.

There was a big difference between Allen and Pierce, and Ray writes about that, “Paul and I had less in common than KG and me, especially when it came to how we approached the game. he was focused when he was matched up against LeBron or Kevin Durant or any of the other top players, but not necessarily if the man he was guarding wasn’t among the elite."

“‘I’m taking the night off,’ he’d tell us."

“Paul was obviously joking, but the fact he even said it bothered me. Because you never knew if that mindset might affect his performance and cost us the game. We were fighting hard for home-court advantage for the whole playoffs (in 2008), and one game might make the difference."

"Once, he tried to get me to think along the same lines."

“‘Hey Ray, you got a night off,’ he said after noticing that the player I would be defending wasn’t highly regarded. “‘No, I don’t,’ I told him emphatically. He didn’t say another word.

“No player should ever take a night off. The worst player in the NBA would not be in the NBA if he weren’t good, which means he has the potential to beat you on any given night. And if you think you have to put forth a greater effort against the top players, you clearly aren’t giving enough of an effort against everyone else.”

The Celtics made it to the NBA Finals in 2008, and they would beat the Los Angeles Lakers in six games. The turning point was when the Celtics made one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history in Game 4, and it possibly was Allen’s best game as a Celtic. Allen had 19 points and nine rebounds.

Ray writes of that game in Los Angeles, “Game 4 took place on June 12. I played 1,471 games during my professional career, including the postseason, and another 101 in college. No game means more to me than this one."

“It sure did not start out very promising, except if you rooted for the purple and gold. The Lakers took a 21-point lead in the first quarter, were up by 18 at the half, and were still ahead, 70-50, with six minutes to go in the third. You don’t come back from a deficit that big. Not in the playoffs, and especially not on the road."

“Doc used to tell us, whenever we were down by 20: ‘Let’s get it under 10, and we will turn it into a game.’" "The other team, he said, will begin to feel the pressure and make mistakes."

“We got it under 10, all right, and it took only four minutes: After Paul completed a three-point play, the score was 73-64. We had gone five or six from the field; the Lakers were just one of six. Scoring the final ten points of the quarter, we trailed by just two going into the fourth. Game on!"

“I knew one thing: No way was I coming out. Normally, Doc gives me a breather with about five minutes to go in the first quarter until early in the second. No breathers tonight. We couldn’t afford to fall any further behind. Yes, I was exhausted. In addition to running around screens to get my own shot, I guarded Kobe. Every timeout felt like the 60 seconds between rounds of a heavyweight championship bout. Get me the water, Gus. Put a towel on my head. Don’t forget the mouth guard. Now send me out there for another round. Ding!"

“‘If you need to come out, let me know,’" Doc said during a timeout in the fourth.

“‘No, I’m okay,’ I told him. ‘I got you.’"

“‘Good,’ he said, ‘because I need you to stay in.’"

“I couldn’t believe it. We had really done it. We had come from 24 points down on their floor! The fans were stunned. Our guys were ecstatic. When I got to the locker room, however, I didn’t feel like celebrating. I felt like collapsing. I played hard game after game after game for 18 seasons, but this was the only game that, when the buzzer sounded, I had absolutely nothing left to give. It wasn’t because I played the full 48 minutes, although I can’t recall doing that before; it was because of everything in my career, and life, that had led me to that moment."

If that was Allen’s greatest overall game, his greatest moment came when he was a member of the Miami Heat. The Heat were facing elimination in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, trailing the Spurs 95-92 with just 19.4 seconds left.

“Anything could still happen,” Allen writes. “This is a sport where the ball can take some strange bounces, and I’d seen my share since I joined the league in 1996. Bounces that can almost make you believe there were other forces at work. Besides, we had one clear advantage during those waning seconds. We had Chris Bosh."

“At six-foot-eleven, CB, as we called him, was the tallest player on the floor. That’s because Tim Duncan, the face of the San Antonio franchise, was on the bench. (Spurs head coach Gregg) Popovich had replaced him with another big, Boris Diaw, for quickness to chase us on the perimeter in a pick-and-roll, a smart move by a smart coach. Lo and behold, when LeBron missed a three, CB grabbed a rebound Duncan might have gotten. Nine seconds to go."

“Of course, we still needed the three ball. Desperately. From someone. Anyone. I wanted that someone to be me."

The second I saw the ball in CB’s hands, there was only one place for me to go: Behind the three-point line. Which meant backpedaling three steps, maybe four, toward the right corner of the court. Granted, it wasn’t the most ideal way to get in rhythm, but for as long as I could remember, in gyms from one end of the country to the other, I had prepared for this very moment."

“Few moments in basketball are as chaotic as an elimination game in the NBA Finals, your team trailing by three, the clock the enemy as well as your opponent. You need something stable to fall back on so your body won’t go into shock. You have to feel as if you have been there before even if you haven’t."

“CB saw where I was, thank goodness, and got me the ball. Now it was my turn. First, I needed to avoid stepping on the out-of-bounds line, which sneaks up on you in the corner of the court. No easy feat, let me tell you. I played in Milwaukee with a guy, Tim Thomas, who could shoot lights out, as long as he stayed in bounds. His first move was to take a step back, which often resulted in a turnover. That drove our coach, George Karl, crazy."

“‘Timmy, you got to know where you are!’" George would yell.

“Spacing is everything in basketball. That is why I went toward the lane as soon as I saw LeBron launch the three. Doesn’t make sense, does it? Shouldn’t I have stayed where I was, close to the three-point line, so I would be ready to shoot a quick three if CB, or another teammate, pulled down the rebound? Two points, remember, wouldn’t do us much good."

“Not really. Because I moved in, Danny Green, the man guarding me, went in too, and wasn’t in the best defensive position when CB threw the pass. If I had remained on the perimeter, Green would have been right on me. He had probably assumed: Ray is not going to shoot a three. I don’t have to worry about him."

“Of course, there was still the matter of making the shot, and that was going to be tough. I had not been an integral part of the offense the entire night. (Miami head coach Erik) Spoelstra believed the bigger the game, the more he needed to rely on the Big Three. Of our 92 points, LeBron, CB, and D-Wade had 52. Meanwhile, I had made just one basket, and that didn’t come until midway in the fourth quarter, after I missed my first four shots. Let’s just say I’d had better nights."

“Whether the ball would find the bottom of the net – and we would find new life – I didn’t have a clue. At least I knew I had done everything I could to be prepared. That day alone, I must have taken close to 200 jump shots at practice before the game. From the top of the key, the elbow, the right corner, the left corner. I took shots from everywhere. I took more shots than usual at the half, too, knowing I would be receiving fewer minutes of playing time to get loose, and always aware the moment might come when there would be one shot I would have to make. Or else. Now that the moment was indeed here, the ball – and our fate – out of my hands, I feared the worst."

I didn’t jump high enough. I didn’t get the ball up enough. This isn’t close to going in."

“Just then, I saw what everyone else saw: Swish! The game, suddenly, remarkably, was tied at 95. From then on, we took advantage, stopping the Spurs on their final possession – Tony Parker missed a fadeaway – and outscoring them 8-5 in overtime to win, 103-100. No one was happier than LeBron."

“‘Thank you, Jesus,’ he said. ‘Thank you, Jesus.’ He was referring to Jesus Shuttlesworth, the character I played in Spike Lee’s film He Got Game, back in the late ’90s."

“‘I’m just glad I could play my part,’ I told him."

“Two nights later, in the deciding Game 7, we survived another close one, 95-88, LeBron leading the way with 37 points, including five threes, and 12 rebounds. Shane Battier, our backup forward, also came up big, nailing six of eight threes. I didn’t score a single point but couldn’t have cared less. I scored the three points we had to have in Game 6 and we were the world champions."

“Was I thrilled to win a second ring? Absolutely. Is there any better feeling in sports? Hell no.”

This book is a must-have for any basketball fan that wants to read about an amazing player whose career spanned nearly two decades, and he left his indelible mark on the game From The Outside.

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