- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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BOSTON -- Looks as though the Celtics have themselves a Kobe Stopper.
Celtics guard Tony Allen racked up three DNP-CDs in three games to start the 2008 Finals and played just 19:02 total over the final three games of the series.
Thursday night in the Celtics' crucial 96-89 win over the Lakers to tie up the 2010 Finals 2-2, Allen played 18:27 and may have changed who will win the championship.
When the Celtics switched to Tony Allen sticking Kobe Bryant for the second half of Game 4 instead of Ray Allen, who checked him in the first, it was a different ballgame.
Bryant was 5-for-8 from the field in the first half and the Lakers led by three. He was just 5-for-14 in the second half with the guy the Celtics call "T.A." playing textbook defense on him, and the Lakers lost the game by seven. Allen's harassing presence contributed to Kobe coughing up seven turnovers.
"[He's] just a guy that's in the rotation who thinks about nothing but defense, hustling, getting loose balls," said Paul Pierce, who had the assignment, along with James Posey, of guarding Bryant in the Finals two years ago. "Every great team needs a guy like that. He takes so much pressure off me and Ray, the scorers, working so hard to get points."
And he puts that pressure squarely on Bryant.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Bryant is now just 5-for-19 (26.6 percent) in the Finals with Tony Allen as the Celtics' primary defender on him. Even when he doesn't cause Bryant to miss a shot, he deters him from even taking one. In the 73 possessions that Allen has guarded him this series, Kobe has touched the ball 79.5 percent of the time. In the 234 possessions when it's been somebody other than Allen checking Kobe, Bryant has touched the ball 88 percent of the time.
All 19 shot attempts by Bryant against Allen have been with a hand in his face too, while he's been able to get off eight uncontested looks against the rest of the Celtics' crew.
So how does Allen do it? A 6-4, 213-pound frame with an abundance of athleticism, Allen has the physical ability to keep up with the 6-6, 205-pound Bryant, but really it's what he does on the tactical side of things that makes him a barge that Bryant has difficulty breaking through.
"I think he steps on his right really well, makes him go left and keeps on the floor instead of getting up [in the air] on the pump fakes," Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson said. "He does a good job of that."
Boston defensive guru Tom Thibodeau has molded Allen to embrace cerebral decisions rather than simply relying on athletic actions.
"You definitely can't go for those fakes," Allen said after the game, as pleased as a guy who scored only three points himself can be. "It just comes from watching a lot of film, listening to coach Tom Thibodeau, and being ready to compete, that's how I look at it. I would say I'm more conscious of it with Kobe. If I'm sticking Shannon Brown, if he's getting ready to shoot, he's going to launch. He doesn't have the head-fake shot in his game. Kobe pretty much made a rep[utation] for that, I have to be ready for it at all times."
You're never going to totally shut down Bryant's offensive assault -- he still scored 33 points in Game 4 -- but you can make it harder on him.
Half of Bryant's 22 attempts in Game 4 were 3-pointers. He made six of them, tying his playoff career high for most makes from downtown in a game, but you'd rather have him launching from 22 feet and beyond where he's shooting 39.6 percent for the playoffs than anywhere in 2-point territory where he's hitting at a 49.1 percent clip in the postseason.
The Celtics had to get through the likes of Dwyane Wade, Vince Carter and LeBron James through the first three rounds just to get an at-bat against Bryant, who Pierce described as "much more difficult [to guard] on the scouting report because of the things he does."
Boston was obviously all about Tony after the game ("Phenomenal tonight with his energy," head coach Doc Rivers said), but maybe even more impressive than his effort on Bryant during the game was the praise he received from Kobe after it.
"He does a great job," Bryant said. "He plays hard, he competes and he's a good solid defender. I'm enjoying it."
This is coming from the same guy who's been known to get downright dismissive when a defender dares rattle the Mamba's cage in the past, yelling toward TNT broadcaster Doug Collins during a playoff game against Houston last year, "He can't guard me! He can't guard me!" about the Rockets' alleged Kobe Stopper, Shane Battier. And of course everybody remembers how he had "bigger fish to fry" than Phoenix's Raja Bell.
Sure, Bryant let a little bit of his defiant side shine through ("When push comes to shove, I can always get a bucket," he said) and he said he was "pretty comfortable" with the Celtics' defense and "not really too concerned" with the individual Allen matchup, but the numbers don't lie when it comes to how Allen can contain him.
"I actually thought we made it tough," Rivers said. "The guy is Kobe Bryant."
And despite the Big Three, Big Baby, Rajon Rondo and Nate Robinson on Thursday, "the guy" for Boston just might have been Tony Allen.
ESPN Stats & Information and Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com contributed to this report. Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter. http://twitter.com/mcten.
14hMatt Walks, ESPN.com