The last few months have been big basketball months with the NCAA Tournament in March and now the NBA Playoffs. Basketball is constantly on my mind, so you'll just have to bear with me.
Basketball is actually a game that frustrates me more than it's fun for me. Every time I go out there and struggle with my jumpshot or playmaking, it eats at me. However, I keep on playing, and the reason is that nothing else in the world can provide me with the same sort of high that basketball can give me.
My favorite player, Ray Allen, recently exploded for 51 points in a playoff game (the Celtics' game 6 loss to the Bulls). He hit 9 three pointers total, and seemingly every single time Boston needed a big shot, he was there to hit it. He was most definitely in the proverbial zone, and being a future Hall of Famer and possibly the greatest shooter who's ever touched a basketball, Ray Allen is no stranger to being in the zone.
After a big game several years ago, Ray Allen once said that scoring 40+ points in a game isn't hard, at least not while you're doing it. When you're having a game like that, the game just feels so easy to you. You just feel like you have a great rhythm all game. Every jumper you take goes in. Every dribble move you make gets you open. Basically, you feel like you're just out there shooting all by yourself.
Now, I'm no Ray Allen, but I've been in those types of grooves before. Games like that are the major reason I play basketball.
Those games always start innocently enough. You come out, hit your first 3 pointer you take, and realize that your shot felt pretty good coming out of your hands. You hit the next open one. The next time you touch the ball, you ball fake to the right, take a couple hard dribbles to the left, pull-up and hit a jumper in the defender's face.
Now, you know you have it going. Suddenly, your whole mentality changes. Normally, when I play, I'm concentrating on what I have to do in order to hit my next shot. I think about getting my feet set, my shoulders square, and getting good extension on my release. However, when I get into that zone, I stop thinking about those things. Instead, I only think about how I can get open for my next shot. I stop worrying about whether I'm going to hit my next shot. Missing doesn't even seem like an option anymore. I just want to get open because I know if I can just get off a shot, I'm going to score.
The feeling is so empowering; I can't even describe it if you've never been in that situation. You just know there's nothing anyone can do to stop you. The other team realizes that you're on fire, and they start trying to do whatever they can to keep you from scoring. They start yelling to each other, "Watch the shooter on your side!!" or "Make sure to jump out on all those screens!" They start instructing your defender to "never leave him open to provide help defense," or they say "help off ANYONE BUT HIM."
Their efforts don't matter though, especially if you have a quick release on your jumpshot. I don't need a whole lot of separation to get my shot off, and I have range out to the NBA 3-point line. I only need a split second of daylight to get off a shot, and if I'm on, I can be a nightmare to cover. No defensive player can stay attached to your hip every second of every possession. Eventually, there's going to be a mental lapse. Eventually the defender will run into a screen, and I'll be able to get my shot off, and when I'm on, it's going to go in.
With each shot you make, the defense gets more and more frustrated. They start switching defenders on you. They start switching and making rotations that they normally wouldn't in an attempt to keep you from beating them. They spend so much energy trying to stop you that they leave your teammates wide open for easy layups. They worry about your jumpshot so much that even the slightest head fake will send them jumping out of their shoes allowing you to get to the basket. You're just in total control. It's exhilarating.
I've felt like this more than a few times, but usually it was in pick-up games that don't really count for anything. I don't want to share all the actual games I've ever been in the zone, but two of them really stand out in my mind.
In one, I couldn't make a shot for the entire first half. I was playing terrible. I had 4 points on 4 free throws, but that was it. My team was down 18 at half and looked like we were going to be run out of the gym. I don't know what changed after halftime, but I couldn't miss in the second half. I was hitting shots from everywhere. Crazy shots, with hands in my face, fade away three's, everything was going for me. I ended up scoring 28 points in the second half (32 points total), and we ended up cutting the lead down to 2 points. We still lost, but we put a scare into a team that had yet to lose that season. At the time of this game, my career high was 26 points. I scored more points in the second half of the game than I ever did in an entire game before.
The other game was quite the opposite. I started out making shots, and I just never stopped. I came out and hit four 3-pointers in the first 8 minutes of the game. By the time I went to the bench for the first time with 5 minutes remaining in the half, I hit 5 three's. I came out to start the second half and did the same thing. I ended up hitting 4 more three's in the second half for a total of 9 in the game. By the time, I went to the bench for the final time with 10 minutes to go in the game (we were beating the team by over 20), I had 30 points (the 9 three's and one three-point play). I can't remember exactly, but I think I went 9 for 11 from the 3-point line that game. I've never shot the ball that well before... or since.
Games like those are the reason I keep playing despite my frustrations with the game. Generally, I'm a good player and a good shooter, but I really play for the small chance that I'm going to go out there and be great. So few people ever get to experience being great at something. So few people get to experience invoking awe in those around them. I'm glad that I've had that experience regardless of how small of a scale it may have been.