Some athletes try to project cool with their wardrobe or their famous musician friends or their shoe line. Ray Allen needs no accessories.
Cool is written all over Allen's face. And it was demonstrated in the split second of calm he needed Tuesday night to take a quick pass from teammate Chris Bosh, slide back behind the three-point line in the corner solely from ingrained memory of that favorite spot, and save the season for the Miami Heat.
Allen's new name should be Miami Cool.
I'm shortchanging LeBron James a bit here, given his triple double and almost solo feat of willing the Heat back from the brink. James lost his headband and discovered his intensity in leading Miami to a 103-100 overtime win over the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, a candidate for the most thrilling game I've seen in over four decades of watching from the couch. Game 7 is Thursday, and it seems unlikely to match this one.
I'm overlooking the Spurs' uncharacteristic choke job, missing free throws, failing to crash the defensive boards late. I'm only glancing at coach Gregg Popovich's decision to take big-man Tim Duncan out on two late defensive sets (somewhere Pacers coach Frank Vogel nodded with understanding). I'm not analyzing the officiating and whether Manu Ginobili was fouled late by Allen. Maybe he was; Ginobili traveled, too, so maybe that's a wash.
I just keep coming back to Allen's cool.
Cool or composure or cold-blooded production is one of the assets that a select few athletes possess. It's that rare ability to ignore all the pressure, all the noise and all the doubts that creep into mortal minds, and deliver the play.
Allen's three-pointer tied a game the Heat seemed destined to lose when James, as great as he played down the stretch, had a turnover and an air ball with everything on the line.
If not for Allen's shot, we'd be spending today discussing LeBron's third NBA Finals runner-up and rambling on and on about how Michael Jordan never lost even one Finals and so LeBron is no Michael, blah, blah, blah. I could write an entire column on why it's easy to love LeBron (his block of Duncan; his steal from Green; his late three-pointer; his line of 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists) and easy to hate LeBron (whining after every no-call, sitting on the floor pouting while the Spurs ran a fast break).
But I'd rather marvel over Miami Cool.
Where did Allen conjure that cool, with 5.2 seconds left, the season on the line?
It comes with experience, for those who know how to find it. Allen turns 38 next month. He's been around although, again, that doesn't guarantee cool, just age. But he has been on the biggest stages before. He's the most productive three-point shooter in history, logging more than Larry Bird or Reggie Miller or any other long-distance specialist.
This is what I find incredible about his shot Tuesday night: It comes after he has looked at times this postseason as, to be blunt, old. The Pacers' guards drove on him often when he was in the game in the Eastern Conference finals, trying to exploit his worn legs with their much younger, fresher ones. For much of that series, Allen was average (7 for 24 in the first six games).
Then Allen hit 3 of 5 threes in the Heat's big Game 7 win over Indiana, and he was 11 for 17 in the first five games versus the Spurs. So the groove had returned and confidence is always part of the equation for a shooter.
It hardly looked like Game 6 would come down to a last-second shot when Duncan was scoring 25 points in the first half and the Spurs rode that to a 10-point lead to open the fourth quarter. The Spurs were hit by a James freight train to lose the lead in the fourth but were back up 94-89 with 28 seconds left. Some Heat fans, fickle as they are, went to beat the traffic.
Allen looked at the clock. Twenty-eight seconds in an NBA game, to an NBA veteran, means something different altogether.
“Until the clock runs out, we still have an opportunity to win the game,” Allen told ABC after game.
James' three cut the lead to 94-92. San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard missed a free throw and then made one, to make it 95-92 with 19.4 left.
James' next three was off the mark, Bosh grabbed the rebound, Allen caught the pass, slid back behind the three-point line and hit nothing but net.
Near the end of overtime, Allen stopped Ginobili's drive – some called foul, but not the ones wearing the official whistles – and retrieved the ball.
Allen went to the other end, with 1.9 seconds left, for two free throws.
He stepped up, sank both. The epitome of cool. No accessories required.