By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — As many folks in New England groggily awoke from a post-Independence Day slumber, Celtics radio play-by-play man Sean Grande decided to drop a proposition in front of Celtics fans:
Will the C’s give Gordon Hayward jersey No. 20, or will it be retired for Ray Allen?
That’s a lot to process before most folks have even had a sip of coffee.
Alas, as Grande pointed out, it’s a conversation that will be rapidly accelerated now that Hayward’s introduction as a member of the Celtics is imminent.
It’s a conversation that likely wouldn’t be held in most NBA cities, but one must remember that the Celtics have had slightly lax standards when it comes to retiring jersey numbers. Typically, a player spending five seasons with a team is not the type of tenure that would result in everlasting immortality in the rafters. But one must consider that Ed Macauley (six seasons) and Grande’s own radio partner, Cedric Maxwell (eight seasons), had their jersey numbers retired at the Garden. (Reggie Lewis’ number was retired after he played just six seasons, but that was of course under tragic circumstances.)
The difference between Allen and Maxwell is found in the championships. Maxwell won two titles and earned Finals MVP honors in 1981.
The difference between Allen and Macauley is that Macauley was the Celtics’ first true superstar, helping to elevate the Celtics in the ’50s just before the team’s rise to dominance.
And even among those three, Allen’s five seasons is the shortest tenure.
Allen, of course, did win a championship with Boston in 2008 and helped the team come within a game of winning another one just two years later. But in the 2008 postseason, the sharpshooter went ice cold, shooting 38.5 percent from the field and 26.2 percent from 3-point range over a 15-game stretch against Atlanta, Cleveland and Detroit. Included in that stretch was a nine-game run in which Allen shot 18.8 percent from 3-point range. Had it not been for steady contributions from bench players James Posey and Eddie House, Allen’s drag might have been enough to down the Celtics early.
But Allen recovered masterfully in the Finals, when he shot over 50 percent from the field and a ridiculous 52.4 percent from 3-point range. That included a 7-for-9 showing from downtown in the clinching Game 6 at home.
Allen also delivered the dagger in the Celtics’ incredible comeback in Los Angeles in Game 4 of that Finals — a play remembered for its devastating effects on Sasha Vujacic:
Two years later, once again in the Finals against the Lakers, Allen set a Finals record by raining eight 3-pointers in a single game. Seven of those 3’s came in the first half.
Yet while that record-setting performance in a Game 2 win gets remembered the most, it has worked to overshadow some of his other performances in that Finals. He went 0-for-2 from 3-point land in a Game 1 loss. He went 0-for-13 from the field and 0-for-8 from 3 in a Game 3 loss. He went 0-for-8 from downtown in Games 4 and 5 combined — both of which were Celtics wins. And in Game 7, he shot 3-for-14 from the field 2-for-7 from deep. The Celtics lost by four points.
Clearly, the full picture of Allen’s accomplishments in a Celtics jersey show some extreme highs and some extreme lows. One would not be out of line to say that if Allen had shot better than 26.5 percent from the field and 18.2 percent from 3-point range during the Celtics’ four Finals losses, the Celtics would have gotten two championships out of that New Big Three Era.
(That’s not to pin the entire series loss on Allen’s shoulders. But Allen is the subject today.)
And then, of course, there was Allen’s less-than-pleasant departure to Miami in 2012. It was a move that still burns his teammates to this day, and considering he went to a conference rival directly competing with the Celtics for championships, it rendered Allen a persona non grata in Boston for years.
But time tends to heal many wounds, and so it’s worth wondering if the Celtics will indeed ever raise No. 20 to the rafters.
Considering Hayward wore No. 20 in high school, in college, and in the pros, it’s likely he’ll want to keep the number in Boston. (Yes, Hayward could be given the number now, only for a future Ray Bourque-Phil Esposito moment at the Garden. But that’s probably not going to happen. When a team knows it will retire a number, it generally keeps it unworn until the retirement ceremony takes place.)
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has said on Toucher & Rich that he expects No. 34 and No. 5 to be retired for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, respectively. But on Allen, Ainge said, “I’m not sure yet. I don’t know the answer to that.”
The answer here, for what it’s worth, is a firm no. Allen helped end a 22-year title drought, yes, but winning one championship for a franchise with 17 of them is not by itself reason enough to be memorialized individually forever in the rafters.
And the ending to Allen’s tenure in Boston simply cannot be ignored. He did what he felt was best for himself and his career, which any player can and should always do. And it worked out for him, as he won another title with Miami and even delivered the most important shot of the whole Finals. But acting in one’s own self interests over those of the team typically brings with it some consequences, and in the case of Allen, the result is falling a bit short of Celtics immortality.