Truthfully, I like random regular season moments. It's something you can't predict and have no reason to get excited for beforehand, but when the moment happens, it's kind of cool to see. Even more, I've often been interested in performances that take place with no stakes on the line, yet are intriguing because either what happened or how it happened. Like that time Raptors guard Terrance Ross scored 55 points, or when Thunder guard Russell Westbrook put up a triple-double with a dent in his face.
So when I think of my favorite moments, most of them don't involve a buzzer-beating three-pointer in the playoffs or a milestone achievement set by a certain player. Instead, it's performances like LeBron James catching fire in Milwaukee in the middle of February, which is in fact my favorite LeBron performance off all time.
For those of you who haven't seen the game, the Cavs beat the Bucks 111-103 behind LeBron's 55 points and nine assists. Some of you may point to the 55 points and say to yourself "wow, that's pretty good" and you wouldn't be wrong. That many points scored by any player is impressive, even if that player happens to be LeBron.
What is truly amazing about this performance was not the sum of all 55 points that made this game one of my favorites (and one of his best performances as a Cav), but a mere six shots he took in between the end of the second quarter and the beginning of the third quarter.
These six shots come in the form of "heat check," a moment popularized by Nick Young, Jamal Crawford and J.R. Smith, but artfully crafted by LeBron in these six shots. In order to capture the level of heat-checking taking place, we'll go through each shot and graph them on a new, handy-dandy chart developed to mark the caliber of each shot in terms of a heat check.
Shot no. 1:
The start of heat check usually starts off with a few easy shots, like a slightly contested lay-up or an open jump shot. Apparently LeBron wanted to take the long road, casually pulling up off the dribble about two feet behind the three-point line. Nothing spectacular, but an impressive start nonetheless.
Shot no. 2:
Bonus points for degree of difficulty, but part of that is due to the clock running down and needing to get a shot up. For those who follow heat checks closely, this would count more towards "desperation shot" instead of the traditional heat check. Judge it how you want, but this doesn't rank as high as one may think.
Shot no. 3:
Rule no. 1 in heat checks: make sure there is PLENTY of time left on the shot clock. Nothing says "I'm feeling it" more than coming up the court and simply firing away with no regards for the other four members of your team on the court. Also, if you stare at the ball while it travels toward the rim, the chances of a make increase by 17 percent.
Shot no. 4:
Very similar to the first shot, except this time a teammate tries to help by slowing down LeBron's defender. Major red flag in the heat check if you take the screen. LeBron is on fire and he knows that; taking the screen would have shown a sign of weakness for his heat check. A heat check is you against five people in different colored uniforms. Never underestimate LeBron's IQ, whether it be basketball, life or heat checks.
Shot no. 5:
Again, LeBron completely disregards the screen. This time he doesn't even let his teammate set himself to act as if he is helping with the heat check, when the teammate is, in fact, hurting it.
At this point, any shot without a hand in the face completely kills the heat check. If you're an NBA player and cannot make an open jump shot, you might not be an NBA player.
I also can't confirm what LeBron said to Richard Jefferson before the shot, but it probably went something like this:
LeBron: "Hey Richard, I've made my last four shots from this darker colored wood. I need some help on this next shot."
LeBron: "I'm going to do the same thing as the previous four shots, except I need you to put your left hand in my face."
Richard: "Uhhhh.. why?"
*shot goes up*
*shot goes in*
*LeBron turns into the Human Torch*
LeBron: "That's why."
Shot no. 6:
That's it. Call it. Game over. LeBron broke the chart.