MIAMI -- The Boston Celtics don't like the Miami Heat. Nevertheless, Ray Allen remembers the Celtics coming to LeBron James' defense last season.
It was March 2 and the Heat were playing at Utah. James passed off in the waning seconds to Udonis Haslem, who missed a potential game-winning jumper. James got barbecued in the media for not taking the shot himself.
"He made that pass and he got criticized, and people were talking about should he have made that pass," Allen said. "But everybody where I was, we all said he made the right play, and if had it again, you make the play again because that's what being a team is."
Well, flash forward nearly nine months and James faced a somewhat similar situation. Once again, he passed off.
But this time the recipient was Allen, who bolted the Celtics for the Heat last summer as a free agent. He drilled a 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds left to give Miami the lead for good in a 110-108 win over Cleveland on Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
James last March made the right play when he was double teamed and passed to a wide-open Haslem, who had made that shot before. But it's understandable many criticized James, who was still ringless at the time.
Now, though, nobody in this galaxy can criticize James for passing to Allen, the most prolific 3-pointer shooter in NBA history. He's become one of the most valuable clutch players the Heat have.
"I never cared about the criticism I receive from making the right play," James, who Saturday scored a game-high 30 points, said when asked about past criticism for passing in the clutch and whether anything has changed now that he has Allen as a target. "So that's how I've grown. I was taught the right way to play the game of basketball. No matter if Ray makes it or misses it, you make the right play."
Allen's presence has put a crimp in barroom arguments over who on the Heat will take key late shots, James or Dwyane Wade. It's not as fun arguing about a topic that now has more than two likely possibilities.
Allen has made the pivotal last-second shot in two Miami wins this season. In a 119-116 victory Nov. 3 over Denver, he converted a 4-point play (a 3-pointer and free throw after being fouled) to give the Heat the lead for good with 6.7 seconds left.
"We've come a long way from 2 years ago, when there were a lot of those type of questions on who's going to get the ball at the end," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "There are a lot of different triggers and actions we run where it's not run specifically for one guy. There's several different layers to it and there's no stress about whose ego or who is going to get credit for it. It's really just about making the right play, and we have lot of high-IQ guys that can read the defense and make the right play under duress."
For a while Saturday, it looked as if the Heat might not even have an opportunity for a key last-second shot. They trailed much of the night and were down 108-101 after Cleveland's Daniel Gibson drilled a 3-pointer with 1:58 remaining.
But what happened next has shown how much the Heat have changed since two years ago, when they first assembled their super team and had trouble winning close games. Since then, Heat players have become more comfortable with each other.
It started last season, when they won the championship. And now the Allen has joined Heat stars James, Wade and Chris Bosh.
It's no wonder that New Orleans rookie Anthony Davis during the preseason called them the "Big Three" before quickly correcting himself and saying the Heat have the "Big Four."
Allen was the main man down the stretch Saturday, when the Heat closed the game with a 9-0 run. He scored seven of his 17 points, including a driving layup in which he was fouled and converted an old-fashioned 3-point play to cut the deficit to 108-106 with 1:32 remaining. Soon, his huge 3-pointer made it 109-108.
"It's great," Wade said of having another big-time pressure player on the team. "It makes it a lot easier for us and me. He hits big shots. We're very unselfish. We'll find him or we can all our own numbers. We got a lot of guys on the floor at the end of the games feeling comfortable taking the shot."
Bosh can hit a key shot in crunch time. So can Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers. Even Norris Cole made a key late 3-pointer in a 98-93 win Nov. 15 at Denver.
But none of those guys can be considered a go-to guy down the stretch. Allen is.
"He's an unbelievable threat to have," James said.
James will keep being a team player and being willing to give up the ball in the waning seconds of a close game when a player is open. The difference is when he passes to Allen, no way is he going to hear any criticism.
The way Allen has looked at times down the stretch, the only risk is James might hear criticism if he takes the ball himself and doesn't pass to Allen.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson