He opened the season as somewhat of a revelation, to a degree more of a free-agent surprise than Ray Allen. He followed with consistent rotation minutes and even four starts.
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Instead, the focus was on nights such as Saturday, and what he could be.
Among the undercurrents that led to Allen's free-agency departure in the offseason from the Boston Celtics was his shift to the bench after playing solely as a starter for Doc Rivers for his first four seasons in Boston.
Yet what once was perceived as a negative for the veteran 3-point specialist is now being cast as something far different, with the Heat experiencing nothing but positive results with Allen's injection into their rotation as a reserve.
Of course, playing behind LeBron James and Dwyane Wade is a bit different than being asked to sit behind Avery Bradley.
"When we talked to him this summer, he was open to it," coach Erik Spoelstra said after Allen's game-deciding 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds to play in Saturday's 110-108 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers lifted the Heat to 10-3 overall and 6-0 at AmericanAirlines Arena. "He realized that we wouldn't be changing the starting lineup and this would be a new chapter to his career and something that he would embrace and be open to the new challenges of it.
"We didn't have a whole lot of discussion about it once we got the season started. He's experienced enough. He knows how to fit in."
So Allen bides his time at the beginning of games, but still is as much a closer as he was during his best days in Boston, playing the final 16 minutes of Saturday's game, his team-high 15 fourth-quarter points his highest total in a fourth quarter since 2009, when the notion of him as a reserve wasn't even an abstract. In fact, the last time before last season that Allen even played a single game as a reserve was 2002-03 with the Milwaukee Bucks.
"It never bothered me whatsoever," Allen said of playing four games off the bench last season in Boston during the regular season and eight more as a Celtics reserve in the playoffs until a shoulder injury removed Bradley from the equation. "The way I always looked at it is that you get in the game, and it's mostly an ego thing when you don't want to come off the bench, because it's like, 'starting five.' What's the big deal not coming off the bench?"
Having the trust late in games is what resonates.
"I think the biggest compliment is being in at the end of the game, at the end being able to help the team win," he said, something he has done twice at AmericanAirlines Arena this season with late 3-pointers, including one that turned into a four-point play against the Denver Nuggets.
With Shane Battier leaving in Saturday's third quarter with a minor knee injury, it eased the minutes crunch for Spoelstra. But Allen said he appreciates how Spoelstra has to work through so many combinations on a nightly basis.
"You look at this lineup, there are so many guys that have sacrificed to be here and there's a lot of guys that can be playing in this situation," Allen said. "So everybody's making some sacrifice to some extent. And we know what we want to do here. There's a focus and it's not a short-term focus.
"So we're all buying in to what we want to do so we can get to the ultimate goal."
At the start of the season, Spoelstra seemingly went out of his way to make Allen's standing clear, playing him as the first reserve the first six games. Since then, Allen has been the sixth man in only two of the past seven games, with Udonis Haslem first off the bench Saturday.
Basically, both Allen and Spoelstra are past such pretense. Allen-as-reserve no longer is even a talking point, not when there as Allen-as-savior.
"I think that's way overstated, anyway," Spoelstra said of Allen playing off the bench. "He sees his opportunities. He can extend his career a long time playing in a role like this, and still he's in there when it's really money time, and that's where he's proven himself for a long, long time. He makes big shots. And he makes 'em under pressure. It's great to have."
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