The art of shooting

 

Pure shooters hold a special place in my heart.

Growing up as a basketball fan, and rec player, I loved watching shooters. I, myself, was one. There was nothing more pleasing to me that spending a few hours after school just shooting – free throws, layups, mid-range shots and, of course, 3-pointers.

I craved the peace. Just you, the ball and your thoughts. I craved the routine: Dribble. Breathe. Rise. Shoot. Release. I craved the discipline; my father always preached height, accuracy and distance. Those three things, and you HAD the shot. I will remember that as long as I live, since I was entered in free-throw shooting competitions in elementary school to my days as a college intramural player.

In high school, I would shoot outside, from about 4:30 p.m. to 8, focusing on the craft – how to get open, where to get my shots, where to get the perfect release off, how to set up defenders. My shot was not perfect. My brother says I shot from my chest; it was hardly ever blocked. There was little lift involved. My release was quick and my extension was perfect.

To make a long story short, I admire pure shooters. The dedication, commitment and routine devoted to becoming a special shooter is one that is demanding. So when I was able to watch Ray Allen break Reggie Miller’s all-time 3-point makes record last night, I almost teared up.

The record-breaker could not have been set up any better. Rajon Rondo got the ball on the left side and started a fast break. Allen ran down the right side in transition, as Rondo waved him on to spot up. Allen caught the ball in stride, with no Laker anywhere close, and mounted and shot for 3-pointer No. 2,561.

But it did not come easy. Allen begins his game day arriving to the arena four hours early, shooting all kinds of shots, feeling for his rhythm. He shoots off-balanced, straight ahead, running … every shot he imagines he could get in a game, he shoots. And this is how it is for shooters. This is how it was for Reggie Miller, Steve Kerr, Glen Rice, all of whom would shoot, shoot, shoot, whether it was in damp gyms, under bleak street lights, in snow, in rain. There is no stopping.

It’s why Miller applauded Allen and never once showed discomfort toward his record being broken. He understood what it took to get to that point, and what he loved was that we were talking about shooting, a dying art in a world of Blake Griffins, LeBron James’ and Kevin Durants. Shooting remains the heart of the game, yet so few understand that. Or, they refuse to work at it, willing to train in their JumpSoles instead of shooting at the park, rain or shine.

It’s why I, by no means a complete basketball player, shot whenever and wherever. I loved shooting. I respected it. Shooters do not take their gift for granted. To this day, I pantomime shooting. I cradle a ball and shoot it. It never leaves you.

Rice once said, “Shooting is an art.” And how right he was. Shooters are not born. They are made. Players with spectacular physical gifts were given those at birth. Shooters are made by hours upon hours of work, shooting and wearing out the leather on one too many basketballs.

I remember once, one of my colleagues in college once said he saw me in the gym too much, so he looked up my grades, made sure my priorities weren’t backward. They weren’t. I was a fine student. But any free time was spent in the gym, not trying to dunk or shoot halfcourt shots or work out on weights. But shooting. We all yearn to find a niche, and I felt the only way I belonged a basketball court was because I could shoot. At their ages, Miller, Allen and Rice all felt the same; in an age of ball that is becoming faster, quicker and more athletic with each passing season, they had to find a way to make themselves valuable to still earn a paycheck.

So, they shot. And shot. And shot some more.

Records are made to be broken. But only if you put in the work.

 

 

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Reading Game 2

The Los Angeles Lakers had no answer for Rajon Rondo, who had a triple double in Game 2 of the Finals with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

Game 2 of the Finals produced history as well, as Ray Allen scorched the nets for a Finals-best 8 3-pointers, on 11 attempts. He hit on his first seven.

Everyone will be talking about Celtics sharpshooter Ray Allen following Sunday’s 103-94 Game 2 Celtics victory over the Lakers that evened the NBA Finals at 1-1.

He certainly deserves the attention, after scorching the nets for a Finals-record eight 3-points, including hitting on his first seven attempts.

But the reason Allen had a field day was because of a better tempo for Boston all night long; a pace that earned a plethora of transition opportunities and had the Lakers backpedaling for most of the night.

Rajon Rondo was responsible for that tempo, and he directed the game from start to finish. And while Allen carried the Celtics’ offense for most of the night, the reason he could do so was because of Rondo, whose Game 2 triple double of 19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists will be overlooked due to Allen’s precision from 23’9″ (even though Rondo made the two biggest plays of the game late in the fourth: a 20-foot jumper that expanded Boston’s lead from 3 to 5 and then a block on the ensuing Lakers possession on a Derek Fisher jumper).

It always amazes me how teams can let their guard down so easily in the playoffs. In Game 1, the Celtics played horribly, as if the Lakers had to prove to them something before they deemed them a worthy foe. Los Angeles, of course, took advantage of that and ran away to an easy win.

In Game 2, it was vice versa. It was Boston that came out hungry and ferocious, while the Lakers were willing to sit back and gauge how hard they’d need to play by determining the level of the Celtics’ play.

It’s infuriating. But it is what it is. Either way, the Finals are headed to Boston for three consecutive games with the series tied at 1-1.

We’ve seen enough of the two teams to determine that this is a series likely to go seven. One team punches. The other team punches back. Neither has shown enough resolve or commitment to keeping either down and keeping the foot on the throat.

Ant any given moment, either team could fold and allow the other into the game. I suppose that’s what happens between two teams that have been hardly tested this postseason until now.

The Celtics appear easy to stop. You control Rondo, you limit their chances of success. It’s that simple. The only other consistent offensive figure has been Allen, but he needs Rondo to be pushing and creating for him to be most effective.

And when the offense is effective and running strong, it severely hurts the Lakers because then they can’t get out in transition. Instead of running out and using their speed and length to their advantage, they’re being forced to set up against Boston’s pitbull halfcourt defense. Never a good thing.

Right now, the defensive matchups favor Boston immensely. Rondo has torched Kobe and Fisher. Allen has torched Kobe and Fisher.

Fisher has done little to make his defender work and exert effort, and Kobe was pretty much a non-factor in Game 2 because of his five fouls, limiting his aggressiveness.

The Lakers are a little more difficult to get a read on. Kobe and Gasol are dynamic, and it takes the grace of God for both to be off their games on the same night. You can always have the theory of forcing Kobe to shoot jumpers, but that’s easier said than done.

Gasol is so versatile and dangerous, but lacks the killer instinct. He showed it at moments during Game 1, but that sort of intensity and fight is not his nature. The moments are few and far between.

Still, the Celtics have made this a series by playing smart defense and efficient offense. They’re getting strong bench play from Rasheed Wallace, Glen Davis and Nate Robinson. The Lakers are only getting contribution from Jordan Farmar. Lamar Odom, in particular, has been ghost. The fact that he is so maddeningly inconsistent is not even a storyline anymore. We’ve come to expect his lax play and inability to rise to the occasion.

The Lakers, on talent alone, should win this series. Their adjustment will have to come defensively, as in who guards Rondo and who guards Allen. Right now, they need to try something. Perhaps Artest on Allen. Ron is not as quick or agile, but he’s a physical disturbance who could make Allen’s life miserable offensively.

Yes, that would probably open the door for Paul Pierce, but exchanging 3s for 2s at this point isn’t a bad idea, especially considering how close the games have been.

But something needs to change for the Lakers. They cannot depend on the refs to take Allen out of a game, as was the case in Game 1 when Allen was whistled for petty fouls that had him sidelined most of the night.

Whatever takes place, I’m just glad we have a series again. I thought the Lakers looked too at ease in Game 1 and I’m glad the Celtics responded accordingly, simply for the sake of the game.