The process has been a slow one since he reported for training camp at the end of September. Tony Allen, who underwent surgery on his left knee last winter, has clearly not been the same player he was before crashing to the parquet floor last Jan. 10.

The process has been a slow one since he reported for training camp at the end of September.
    
Tony Allen, who underwent surgery on his left knee last winter, has clearly not been the same player he was before crashing to the parquet floor last Jan. 10.
    
That was to be expected as Allen, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament while dunking the ball after play had been stopped, hit the comeback trail early in this season.
   
He was been wearing a bulky brace and has lacked the explosiveness that was so apparent during Allen's best stretch of basketball prior to his season-ending injury.
    
As a result, Allen is averaging less than 15 minutes per game as Coach Doc Rivers has waited to increase his playing time.
     
On Friday night, though, the guard made a significant contribution to the Celtics' 12th straight home victory.
    
Allen made his first start of the season -- and first since suffering the knee injury against the Indiana Pacers in January -- in a 104-82 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks at the TD Banknorth Garden.
   
Replacing the injured Ray Allen (sore right ankle), Allen was handed the defensive assignment of guarding All-Star Michael Redd, who averages 23.4 points.
    
Allen held Redd to just seven points on 3-of-9 shooting and tossed in 11 points of his own during 33 minutes, the longest stint of his season.
   
That defense, which is Allen's trademark, came in handy as the Celtics struggled through the first half before pulling away in the third quarter.

They improved to 19-2 heading into today's game in Toronto against the Raptors (1:05, TV: Comcast SportsNet; radio: WEEI-850 AM).
    
Tony Allen will make his second start against the Raptors as Ray Allen, as expected, did not make the trip to Canada as he received treatment and sat out a brief practice on Saturday. 
    
Rivers has continually stressed the importance of Tony Allen to the Celtics' cause, knowing he can provide relief to Ray Allen and Paul Pierce and give Boston another key piece to its bench.
   
Before getting the start against the Bucks, Allen had showed some flashes here and there that he was moving forward. 
    
“I think he's playing with more life,” said Rivers prior to the win over Milwaukee. “I think he's starting to get some of it back, which is really important. I've said it all year, Tony's extremely important to our team and we need him.”

Perhaps the defensive effort against Redd will provide a confidence boost that will lift Allen's game even more.
   
Allen was perhaps the best Celtics' player for a stretch after Pierce went out with his foot injury last December.
    
In a 10-day span, Allen exceeded 20 points on four occasions and had 19 points before getting hurt against the Pacers in the third quarter.
    
During that time, Allen was balancing an outside shot with a quick move to the basket. Now, Allen appears tentative when getting inside, something that should disappear the more he settles in with the knee.
     
“You can still see him (being tentative),” said Rivers. “He had one time he had a drive in the (second) half (Friday), and I thought clearly he could've gone with power and instead he didn't. And he missed it. 
   
“He just didn't go with the power that I know that he has. And then later, he did it and got a three-point play. So it's just a mental thing and it's tough.
   
“You don't know on each drive when he's going to do it, when he's not going to do it. And I think the more he plays and gets comfortable, the more he'll do it.”

Defense is where Allen can really help the Celtics, giving them another presence off the bench with James Posey.
    
What he did against Redd was an encouraging sign, and now Allen has something to build on heading into the second quarter of the season.
   
“He was awesome, just terrific,” said Rivers. “Defensively, he was as good as you want. He was physical, aggressive. I mean, Mike Redd's an all-star. That's a tough matchup.
   
“Mentally, I was happy that he did it, and he did it without getting into foul trouble as well. If you had a game ball, you could probably give it to Tony Allen because I thought he set the tone for us in the first half.”

Going for 20

The Celtics can tie a franchise mark for the most wins with only two losses. By beating the Raptors, Boston would be 20-2, equaling the record set by the 1963-64 team that finished 59-21 … The Celtics are already 2-0 against the Raptors and won in overtime on their first visit to Canada on Nov. 4 … After today, the Celtics play three straight home games before Christmas. They go for a franchise-record 13-0 start at home Wednesday when the Detroit Pistons come to town.

The Enterprise