I’ve been looking at NBA box scores for almost three decades. The Boston Globe newsprint no longer stains my fingers like it would when I would check in the late 1980’s to see if Bird got the triple-double (he had 69 in his career) he was closing in on at the beginning of the fourth quarter when I had to turn the game off. Or in the early 1990’s to see how many minutes Bird and McHale actually managed to play. Then in the mid-1990’s to learn about David Wesley or Kevin Gamble (one triple-double) and the lackluster Celtics shooting totals. Or in 2001, when Antoine Walker (13 career triple-doubles) set the NBA record for most three-point attempts in a game without a make. I generally don’t spend more than thirty seconds or so on a box score during the regular season, but one particular line stood out recently.
On Sunday, March 16, the The Miami Heat were stuck in a late season slump, having dropped five of six games. At 38 years and 7 months old, Ray Allen came up big for Miami in a contest against the Houston Rockets. Allen, who betrayed the Celtics by joining rival Miami in the summer of 2012, hit the corner three that saved the Heat in Game 6 of last year’s NBA Finals. This year will be the first of his 19 NBA seasons in which Allen doesn’t average double figures in points. When you’re 38, and you’ve made 2,950 career three-pointers (good for exactly 40.0% as of March 19, 2014), you don’t worry so much about points per game. In this particular game, Allen passed another Allen–Iverson–on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, moving up to the 21st slot.
Ray took eleven shots against Houston, making seven. Hit drained 4 of his 6 attempts from deep. He sank all 7 of his free-throws. Twenty-five points on 11 field-goal attempts. Efficiency. For the season, Ray isn’t asked to do much more than shoot threes. In his 26 minutes per game, he’s averaging only 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 0.7 steals. Still, this night would be special because his box score line was full of zeroes. A lone defense rebound and one personal foul were the only non-zeroes to be found, other than the shooting numbers. Zero assists. Zero turnovers. Zero steals. Zero blocks.
I will always love the exactness of a box score. The impossibility of measuring performance. The defiant attempt at quantification. The aesthetic comfort of columns and rows of numbers next to names of players. Advanced stats are changing the way we look at a box score. There will be adjustments in the way we measure rebounding, focusing more on percentage and less on the total number. Defense will always be impossible to quantify. Defining a shot as “contested” is somewhat subjective. Deflections may be recorded in the box score within a few years. Still, the numbers give us a sense of what happened. And what happened is Ray Allen took eleven field goal attempts, six of which were three-pointers, and seven free-throws. He collected exactly one defensive rebound and committed one foul. He led the Heat back from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit, scoring 14 of his 25 in the final period.
Last night, back in Boston, with the Celtics running the final lap in a forgettable rebuilding season, Rajon Rondo and the Celtics got the better of Ray and the Miami Heat, who were playing without a certain Mr. James.
Rondo’s box score lines are always funny and strange, as he is one of the few NBA players who often records more assists than points, in addition to a massive number of rebounds. On Wednesday, Rondo put up a near triple-double (he has 28 in his career): 9 pts, 15 ast, 10 reb. Perhaps more reassuring for Celtics fans, Avery Bradley, in only his fourth game back since returning from an extended absence due to an ankle injury, scored 23 points on 8 of 13 from the field and 6 of 9 from distance. The Rondo-Bradley backcourt that Celtics fans hope will be key to their future looked great on this night.
Click on the link below for the full effect of Ray Allen’s bizarre line from Sunday.