'Pure joy': Ray Allen came to Miami with hopes of a title ring, and he's 4 wins away now

This is why Ray Allen came to Miami.

Not for the money, because he already has plenty and could have gotten more by staying in Boston. Not for a long-term deal, because the Celtics were willing to guarantee him more years than the Heat could. Not for a starting spot, because the Heat have been doing just fine at shooting guard after drafting Dwyane Wade a decade ago.

No, Allen primarily came here for one reason — the chance for another championship.

And that chance has arrived.

Allen is headed to the NBA Finals for the third time, with the series starting in Miami on Thursday night against the San Antonio Spurs. At 37, he's the second-eldest player on either roster, nine months older than the Spurs' Tim Duncan and three years younger than Miami's Juwan Howard, who wouldn't figure to get any time in the series barring some sort of huge change to the Heat plan.

"Pure joy, just getting back here," Allen said. "This is my third time and this feeling, it never gets old. You always forget the magnitude of the situation. I actually thought about it and I compared it to the Super Bowl. ... I think about the enormity of the situation for the people all over the world that watch and our peers, the people in the NBA circles that watch and obviously media.

"We've done something that people all over the world will pay attention to."

For Allen, that's not a new thing.

He was a college star at Connecticut, a fan favorite in his first two NBA stops of Milwaukee and Seattle, and then became part of a group in Boston that needed no time before becoming the league's best. Allen and Kevin Garnett were added in the summer of 2007, the Celtics were champions in 2008, and Allen had a legacy that seemed complete.

It might look even better in a couple weeks.

"For us two weeks can be a short time or it can be a long time," Allen said. "So we have to enjoy this moment."

He's already gotten to enjoy one moment that was particularly painful just 12 months earlier.

This time, he got to be inside the ropes.

When the Heat won the Eastern Conference championship by beating the Indiana Pacers on Monday night and someone handed him the trophy, Allen immediately had a realization. One year earlier, on the same court and in the same round, Allen couldn't stick around for the party because he was on the Boston team that lost Game 7 of the East title series and would not be headed to the NBA Finals.

This time, he was part of the celebration.

The Heat courted Allen in a big way last summer, after spending years trying to figure out how to stop him as a key part of the Celtics' title-contending core. And when the decision came that he would leave Boston for Miami, a team that was just coming off the 2012 championship run knew it had just gotten better and deeper — while the Celtics were more than a little miffed that he would not just leave, but leave for a rival.

"We're glad that he can sacrifice the way he did and take a lot of criticism as well to come and be a part of an organization, of a team, that he felt was special and that can really use his talents and his ability," Wade said, referring to the mild backlash that followed Allen's decision to leave Boston and move to Miami. "And it worked. It worked out for him. He now has another opportunity to play in another finals."

Allen didn't start a single game this season, the first time in his career that's happened. He averaged 10.9 points, a career low, though that's hardly relevant considering he logged an average of just under 26 minutes, basically a full quarter off his per-game average over his first 16 seasons.

He didn't come to Miami for numbers. He came to Miami for a second ring.

"Now we're at the point where we can't wait," Allen said. "When you get to the finals, you see what you're playing for, you can't wait. You have to start once that ball goes in the air and there has to be an intensity felt from every guy that comes into the game."

Make no mistake, Allen has been effective for the Heat, even though not all the numbers would suggest so much.

Sure, he's shooting only 31 percent in his last 10 games, averaging a mere 6.4 points in that span. The most prolific 3-point shooter in NBA history had been 9 of 35 from beyond the arc before making three of his five long-range attempts in the East clincher against Indiana. He has even missed six of his last 16 tries from the foul line, which for Allen constitutes a slump of enormous proportions. But when he's been on the floor in the playoffs, the Heat have outscored opponents by 130 points.

"It's a clean slate," Allen said about getting to the finals. "You have to reconfigure what we've been doing offensively and just get that rhythm down and that chemistry and be prepared to fire on all cylinders."