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Former Teammates, Rivals Still Vividly Recall Ray Allen's Defining Moment

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 2, 2016

Miami Heat shooting guard Ray Allen (34) shoots a three-point basket in the end of regulation  during the second half of Game 6 of the NBA Finals basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Wednesday, June 19, 2013 in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

MIAMI — Erik Spoelstra, then a decades-long assistant and head NBA coach, wasn't entirely sure what he was watching.

Ray Allen, the Miami Heat's prized pull from the 2012 free-agent class, was blazing through a workout for his new club in a drill Spoelstra had never seen.

"He would lay on the floor, pop up, backpedal, have the presence of mind to have his feet set and not out of bounds and have a coach throw him the ball," Spoelstra recalled. "... Afterwards I said, 'That seemed like a crazy drill.' Why would he do something like that—lay down in the middle of the floor?

"'He said, 'It's extreme, but I want to prepare myself for when I'm in the lane, I hit the floor, I'm on the ground, offensive rebound that I have the fundamentals to be able to backpedal stay in bounds and be able to knock down shots.'"

Allen's maniacal approach to training—still the stuff of legend within the Heat organization—effectively raised Miami's third championship banner in 2013. With the Heat down 3-2 to the San Antonio Spurs, Allen's scenario played out in real time with a title on the line.

LeBron James misfired on a potential game-tying triple with 7.9 seconds left. Chris Bosh snared the rebound, and Allen—just as he had on the practice court—backpedaled into perfect position before launching and burying a series-altering three.

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"It was an incredible thing to see, but that's how Ray Allen was with his workouts," Spoelstra said. "It was on all levels—his conditioning, his shooting, tying it all together, his footwork."

Allen, a 10-time All-Star and two-time champion, retired Tuesday through a letter posted on The Players Tribune. Although the 41-year-old hadn't played since June 2014, stories of a potential comeback spilled out over the past two years. As recently as August, he told Dom Amore of the Hartford Courant he was scouting teams for a possible return.

Now that the chapter has closed, Allen's peers seized the opportunity to marvel at his storied career.

"You'd see Ray being the first in the gym and the last to leave," Udonis Haslem said. "Riding his bike, jogging and doing the things that he's done. I've taken a couple pages out of his book just to continue my career moving forward."

Spoelstra, now running an up-and-coming squad that bears little resemblance to his star-laden title teams, still holds Allen up as an example for prospects to follow.

"I always mention it when players come in to develop an approach and a consistent work ethic," Spoelstra said. "Things don't happen by accident the majority of the time in this league. He was able to shoot the ball and be one of the premier catch-and-shoot clutch players that you absolutely game-plan for, [which] meant that he had to put in a crazy amount of time behind the scenes."

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 15: Ray Allen #34 of the Miami Heat warms up before Game Five of the 2014 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on June 15, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and a
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Even opponents could appreciate the fruits of Allen's labor—that ignitable scoring touch, that always-on-the-money quick-draw release, that ballerina-like footwork.

Thousands of Spurs fans despise Allen for denying San Antonio the 2013 NBA championship.

But those actually involved in the game respect everything about his career, even that painful shot.

"We had many battles with Ray," Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said. "He was the ultimate professional and the respect you gain for him in battles like two NBA Finals, that's when you see the true essence of people as competitors and teammates. He created a great path for his team and an example for countless players to come about how to work hard and how to be a professional."

Gregg Popovich made his players watch Game 6, start to finish, on the first day of training camp for the 2013-14 season that followed. He wanted them to understand it was not just Allen's shot that beat them, but all the things that led up to it. The Spurs coach had no doubt Allen would make the shot once it got in his hands because he knew that Allen had prepared himself for the moment.

"He was one of the great ones, one of the best shooters of all time, played with class, competed through his whole career," Popovich said.

No Spur struggled with that Game 6 collapse more than Manu Ginobili, the most competitive of Spurs. Unable to sleep afterwards, he told reporters he needed a mild sedative from the medical staff to get even a few fitful hours of rest.

Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs vies for the ball with Ray Allen of the Miami Heat during game 5 of the NBA finals on June 16, 2013 in San Antonio, Texas., where the Spurs defeated the Heat 114-104 and now lead the series 3-2. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/Getty Images

And when the Spurs lost Game 7, there was nothing for the veteran guard from Argentina to do but gather his family—wife Marianela and twin sons Dante and Nicola—and find a quiet getaway as far away from basketball as possible.

Off the Ginobilis flew, to an island in the Caribbean.

"It would have been easier," Ginobili said, per Mike Monroe's book 100 Things Spurs Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. "if every waiter, employee or visitor at the hotel hadn't watched the Finals. But we all know the NBA Finals are really popular and hundreds of millions of people watch every game, so I understood it was a big thing and they appreciated what you did and wanted to say something about the games.

"I really didn't appreciate it, but I understood it. It made me remember way more often than I wanted."

For the past two-and-a-half years, Ginobili has done his best to avoid the memory of Allen's shot. Until reminded of it before his team's game against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night, he swears he had not thought of it once over the past 18 months. He had watched a video replay only twice: Once, thanks to Popovich, and a second time to prepare for a speech in his native Argentina in 2015.

"Sometimes you get the shot in the right spot at the right time and he made it. Of course, it got to one of the greatest shooters in the history of the game, so it was unfortunate for us, but it was [allowing the offensive rebound and leaving Allen open] that hurt us more [than the shot]."

Ginobili had an unfortunate vantage point when Allen, open in the right corner, caught the pass from Chris Bosh that enabled the shot. He had tried to reach in and knock the ball away from Bosh as the Heat big man grabbed the rebound off James' missed three.

Chris Bosh (L) of the Miami Heat snares a rebound before teammate Ray Allen (R) against Manu Ginobili  (C) of the San Antonio Spurs during overtime in Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat at the American Airlines Arena June 19, 2013 in Miami, F
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/Getty Images

Instead, he got knocked to the court, where he saw the pass land in Allen's hands and knew what was coming.

"Yeah," Ginobili said, "and nothing we could do because we were scrambling for the ball."

Tony Parker managed a decent close-out on Allen, but the great marksman already was in his release move by the time Parker arrived, both hands raised.

Ginobili's regret about the fateful shot relates to the mistakes the Spurs made before the ball ended up in Allen's hands at all. A great shooter, of course, is expected to make such shots.

A year later, there was atonement for Ginobili and the Spurs, but he did not recall that Allen remained on the Heat when the Spurs scored a 4-1 series win in The 2014 Finals. Of course, it was Allen whom Ginobili pushed off to rise over Bosh for a powerful dunk that punctuated the Spurs' title-clinching win in Game 5.

"Ah, true," he said, when reminded.

New Spurs center Pau Gasol has his own memory of Allen's ability to impose his will on an NBA Finals.

"Ray's one of the greatest shooters ever," Gasol said. "I suffered him a few times, especially during my time in L.A. I think in the 2008 Finals, we lost against (the Celtics), he had nine threes in a game they beat us at home. One of the greatest I ever played against."

Pau's memory of the Lakers' Finals loss to the Celtics is a bit flawed. He was surely referring to Game 2 of the 2010 Finals, in which Allen made eight three-pointers in a Celtics win in Los Angeles. But the effect is still the same.

Boston Celtics' Ray Allen (R) defends against Los Angeles Lakers' Pau Gasol during Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals in Boston, Massachusetts, June 17, 2008. The Boston Celtics captured the National Basketball Association championship, routing the Los Angeles
GABRIEL BOUYS/Getty Images

With Allen exiting the league, his legacy lives on as a mountain for young wings to try to climb.

"Ray Allen is one of the greatest shooters ever in the history of this game," Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore told Bleacher Report. "I definitely model my game after him a lot. ... As a shooter, I want to find different ways to make the games easier. I think that's what he did throughout his career."

If the picturesque shooting form couldn't convince someone of Allen's work ethic, his longevity did.

"Everybody I've ever talked to about him always says that he could've played five, six, seven more years just the way he took care of himself," Tyler Johnson said. "It could be the middle of summer, and he looked like he was in mid-season form. That's not just the coaches saying that—I've talked to players, and they said he took care of his body better than anyone they'd seen."

Heat players won't soon forget the sweet-shooting guard. The current ones couldn't if they tried. When they're retracing Allen's steps to the corner, Spoelstra instructs them to, "Get deep in the corner like Ray Allen," Justise Winslow said.

NASSAU, BAHAMAS - OCTOBER 3:  Ray Allen #34 and Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat participates in Training Camp on October 3, 2013 at Atlantis Resort in Nassau, Bahamas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

Allen's lasting image is as that Game 6 savior. His career wasn't defined by a single shot, but that basket perfectly encapsulated his greatness—the smooth stroke, the attention to detail, the coolness in the clutch.

His body of work is first-ballot Hall of Fame-worthy—"as soon as that can happen," Spoesltra said. Dating back to Allen's last appearance, that window will open in 2019.

He retired as the record-holder for career three-pointers with 2,973. He won't sit atop the list foreverStephen Curry already has 1,610 through seven-plus seasons, a mark Allen cleared in year 10—but he'll hold a prominent place for a long time.

Allen is one of only 41 players with double-digit All-Star selections. From 1996-97 to 2011-12—Allen's 16 seasons as a starter—he tallied the most triples (by nearly 1,000 over second-place Jason Terry), fifth-most points and 14th-most steals. He averaged 18.9 points per game for his career and shot 89.4 percent from the free-throw line, the seventh-best mark ever.

"He's one of those rare players that off-the-ball strikes fear in an opponent," Spoelstra said. "You have to game-plan for him. You have to spend time game-planning for a catch-and-shoot player. That's a dying breed.

"You don't see a lot of players like that anymore."

Mike Monroe contributed quotes and recollections from San Antonio Spurs players and coaches. Zach Buckley covers the Miami Heat for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBAAll quotes obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Statistics used courtesy of Basketball Reference.com and NBA.com.

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