Though everything would suggest otherwise, Ray Allen insisted last week that when he returns to Boston’s TD Garden on Sunday for the first time since joining the Heat, the Celtics will be “just another opponent.”
But they cannot be.
Not with the history here.
Not with what he accomplished there: an NBA title and three All-Star appearances in five seasons in Celtics green.
Not with the prickly feelings between Allen and Rajon Rondo.
And not with all the noise surrounding his departure, which included coach Doc Rivers claiming the reason Allen left “was ego more than anything else. Ray wanted the ball more.”
Allen said he doesn’t know precisely how he will feel when he steps on the court hours before the Heat and Celtics meet at 1 p.m. on ABC.
“I will deal with whatever emotions there are,” he said. “You never know until you get there. Regardless of how they respond to me, it won’t change how I feel. I have great memories.”
LeBron James, Chris Bosh and other Heat players said Allen should expect to be booed.
“I don’t expect it to be good,” said James, booed heavily when he returned to Cleveland as a member of the Heat. “If you don’t wear green in that building, they don’t like you. We’re there for him.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra cracked: “Maybe the highest form of compliment would be for them to boo and throw stuff at Ray.”
Celtics coach Doc Rivers hopes that isn’t the case. “I hope he gets a good round of applause,” Rivers told Fox Sports Florida. “He did a lot for this franchise. I know he’s a great guy.”
Bosh, booed when he returned to Toronto for the first time after joining the Heat, said Allen should expect a “very emotional” day.
“All these emotions are pent up and brewing,” Bosh said. “But it helped me focus in a lot more. The key is just play the game.”
Said Dwyane Wade: “We just want to play well for him.”
Allen insisted last week he has nothing but “positive” feelings for the Celtics, for whom he made 798 three-pointers and scored 5,987 of his 23,384 career points.
“Everything I accomplished there and experienced there brought me to this place I am now,” he said. “And I’m appreciative for all of it, because the negative you learn from just the same.”
The Allen/Celtics relationship was far from warm and fuzzy in his final months as a member of the team or in the aftermath of his exit. It has been well documented that Allen was upset not only about being replaced in the starting lineup, but also that the Celtics nearly traded him to Memphis.
That, coupled with his frosty relationship with Rondo, made it easy for Allen to reject a two-year, $12 million offer from Boston and take a two-year, $6 million deal with Miami, including an opt-out after this season.
Though Allen has suggested that stories about friction with Rondo are overstated, Sports Illustrated reported that Allen and Rondo had to be separated in the locker room at least once because Allen believed Rondo was intentionally looking him off.
Rondo hasn’t referred to Allen by name in months, calling him merely “that guy.” Kevin Garnett said he intentionally “lost” Allen’s phone number.
And in the season opener in Miami, Garnett ignored Allen when Allen wandered over to the Celtics bench to quickly greet him and slap him on the shoulder.
“I was just trying to stay as neutral as I could,” Garnett said at the time. “I just saw the Heat uniforms and obviously he’s on the other side.”
Asked if he would greet his former teammates again, Allen said: “I will do what I’ve always done.”
Rivers hardly diffused any simmering friction, saying in October: “He made a choice. Do I think it was the wrong choice? I absolutely do.”
But Allen has no regrets. He said he has enjoyed playing in South Florida, aside from the vexing traffic, but added he will wait until after the playoffs to decide whether to exercise his opt-out clause.
There have been adjustments, though, including coming off the bench for the first time in his career.
“Your body is tighter,” he said. “I run off the bench to trick my body into thinking I haven’t been sitting there.”
He said he’s still finding a rhythm, “trying to find out where the shots are coming from and being ready where they do come.”
His minutes have dropped from 34 to a career-low 25.5 per game, which was expected. At his introductory news conference, Heat president Pat Riley said he hoped Allen would match last season’s numbers of 14.2 points per game, 45.8 percent shooting and 45.3 percent on three-point attempts.
His scoring is down to a career-low 11.4 (a byproduct of fewer minutes), but his shooting percentages — 47.6 overall and 44.3 on threes — stand above his career averages.
“He is more comfortable and that’s the most important thing,” Spoelstra said. “He is savvy. He knows how to fit in.”
Allen said he has watched Boston games occasionally on television but, “I don’t seek it out.”
Asked if he’s missed by the Celtics, who have lost six in a row to drop to 20-23, he said: “I couldn’t tell you. I guess we’ll see when we get there.”
Allen was painstakingly diplomatic last week, putting aside any unpleasant feelings from his final months in Boston.
“I’ve moved on, but who I was as a Celtic will always be inside of me,” he said. “I look back and think about all the great times that we had. I will always cherish those moments there.”
• Allen isn’t the only Heat player who has a history with Rondo. During the Heat’s opening night win this season, Rondo was hit with a flagrant foul for grabbing Wade near the neck to thwart a drive. Wade called it a “punk play.”
During the 2011 playoffs, a contentious tie-up between Rondo and Wade resulted in Rondo sustaining a dislocated elbow.