Will the Garden give Ray Allen a warm reception?
MIAMI -- Ray Allen has played in Boston as an opponent 15 times before. He knows what it's like to play under the fabled Celtics banners, knows exactly how the crowd treats visiting players.
His 16th appearance there as a visitor will be substantially different.
Not only will his trip there today be his first as a former Celtic, but it will come with him donning the colors of perhaps the team's biggest rival these days, the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat, the club that has ousted Boston from the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.
And make no mistake, Allen has been getting ready for everything that will accompany this trip for quite a while.
"I've thought about it," Allen said. "I think more about who, family-wise, is going, who can go and sorting the whole protocol out. I don't know what to expect from their side. But it's an interesting concept because I've always gotten a warm welcome, even before I started playing there. I just want to win. Everything else will take care of itself."
When he played there as an opponent in the past, Allen typically got warm receptions. He starred at Connecticut and has deep roots in New England, and those two things go a long way in generating respect from the Boston fan base.
Then he joined the Celtics in the summer of 2007. A year later, he helped them win a championship. He bled green.
Now, not so much.
So on a Sunday afternoon before a national television audience, the big story won't be the return of the Heat to the site of their season-saving Game 6 win in the Eastern Conference finals last year, or the first trip back to Boston for LeBron James since his epic 45-point virtuoso performance in that game, or even the memory of how Celtics fans cheered wildly for the last few minutes of that blowout loss as a "thank you" to their team.
"It's going to be all about Ray," Heat forward Chris Bosh said. "Celtic fans, they're very fixated on the rivalry and ‘How could you do that?' They're very passionate."
Allen's relationship with the Celtics broke down in some respects last season, and when the Heat made him an offer last summer, he eventually accepted -- knowing it would raise the ire of those back in Boston.
When the Celtics visited the Heat on opening night this season, the proof of the frosty relationships was there. Former teammates, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce especially, seemed to want nothing to do with Allen. As Allen checked into the game, his first official appearance as a Miami player, he approached Celtics coach Doc Rivers and got a warm embrace.
It's anyone's guess what the scene will be when he checks in today.
"I'll savor it, going back and seeing the people you spent so much time with," Allen said. "But if you're going into a situation thinking about negative perceptions or behavior that's unbecoming of good sportsmanship, then you just want to get it over with, win the game and get out of there. I don't want it to distract these guys from everybody doing their job and being ready to play."
The bigger concern for both sides will likely be the way each club is playing of late.
Miami has won four straight games, hanging on to the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Boston has dropped six straight, and its hold on the No. 8 -- and final -- playoff spot in the East race is weakening.
Dwyane Wade doesn't think the teams' opposite trajectories will matter much. The way he sees it, when Boston plays Miami, everything gets amped up several notches.
"There's a lot of stories, but you can throw records out the window when we play Boston," Wade said. "It's significant because we have Ray Allen and it's his first time back, but we're going on the road and we want to play well and it's a tough place to play."
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