(This article was originally published on Broken Leagues)
So there I was, sitting in my office chair, NBA 2K14 at full speed on the television. I had only recently bought the game, but I'd already fallen into something of a malaise, facing online opponent after online opponent. I was in a zombified state, in which I was playing the game without really appreciating what was on the screen. I needed something to amplify the experience -- an augmentation, as they call it in Fable.
And I got it. I got my augmentation in the form of a complete jackass.
My opponent was Jay-_-Swagga, who exuded all the maturity one might expect from a dude with a grouchy-face emoticon in his name. Swagga played as the Miami Heat. I was the Portland Trail Blazers and was on the road.
It didn't take me long to absolutely despise this guy. Swagga was doing all the douchey things you can do in NBA 2K: taking charges at half-court, replaying every dunk and block ad nauseam, pausing and un-pausing the game every few seconds during a timeout, hovering select over the quit button. More than I anything, it was his usage of the Miami Heat that pissed me off. I can understand being brash or arrogant when you're using a team like the Nets or the Mavericks. But Miami? I'm sorry, but when you play as the best team in the NBA, you lose the right to be a cocky asshole when you do something right. It's like celebrating when you're using Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl.
In the first half, Swagga relied almost entirely on outside shots. In particular, he spammed the hell out of Ray Allen, who kept getting open behind the arc. In the third, Swagga only attempted Ray Allen three-pointers off of screens.
I wanted to kill this guy, to beat him so thoroughly that he'd never again attempt such infuriating tactics.
But holy crap if it's not hard to stop digital Ray Allen from connecting on an open three-pointer. And what was especially irksome was that there was nothing I could do, no setting I could enter, to make Blazers guard Wesley Matthews stay on Allen. Inevitably, Matthews would drift aimlessly into the lane for some inexplicable purpose, giving Allen just enough room to hoist an unblockable three. And even when I'd control Matthews, and later Nicolas Batum, to stay as close to Allen as I could, that still left LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to shred the automated defenders.
Swagga started to pull away in the fourth quarter, with me cursing the game's mechanics every step of the way. Hand-checking fouls had seemingly disappeared entirely, making it ludicrously easy to lose the ball or have it stolen. The controls also weren't as responsive as they were in NBA 2K13, that it would take a split-second longer for the ball to be passed or for a player to react.
When I called timeout with 2:40 left in the fourth, Swagga's lead had ballooned to 77-62. It was insurmountable. I came to peace with my impending defeat, sending all my starters to the bench in the universal sign of surrender. In their place came in Mo Williams, C.J. McCollum, Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson and Meyers Leonard. Swagga stuck with the lineup that had gotten him this huge lead: Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, LeBron James, Michael Beasley and Chris Andersen. There was no compassion from Mr. Swagga, who paused the game to toggle to over the quit button, just in case I hadn't already considered it.
Coming out of the timeout, I found Mo Williams wide open in the top right corner, just in front of the three-point line. Swish. 77-64.
I switched to full-court defense, the most desperate and easily-exploitable of the all defensive settings. And sure enough, a few quick passes later, Chris Andersen was completely uncovered, without a Portland defender around for miles. He could have dunked it and made it a 15-point differential again, but he didn't. Swagga wanted to humiliate me, to show me just how little he thought of my admittedly-lame gaming skills. So he dribbled back behind the three-point line, waited for Beasley to come across half-court, and swung it over to Beasley, who promptly fired a ludicrous three-point heave that had zero chance of going in.
I came down the court. Mo Williams curled to the corner once again, and I passed it to him. This time he was behind the line, and this time LeBron James was right in his face. No matter. Swish. 77-67, with 2:05 to go.
Chris Andersen took the ball out. The full-court defense had everyone blanketed. He was controlling Wade and I was controlling Williams. I guessed that he would have Wade dart to the right and then toss it to him, and I guessed right. I intercepted Andersen's pass, took one dribble, and drilled a 10-foot floater. Now the lead was down to single-digits with 1:57 left. Encouraging, but not enough for me to get my hopes up.
Swagga called timeout. Just a few passes into his possession, he again lost the ball. And on transition, Thomas Robinson converted a lay-up that was goal-tended by LeBron James. With 1:42 to go, it was 77-71.
Suddenly taking things more seriously, Swagga tried another Ray Allen three, this time well-defended. I drove the basket with Mo Williams and got hacked. Mo, who's not exactly Mr. Clutch in real life, drilled both freebies, making it 77-73 with 1:24 on the clock. This was possible. I could actually pull off this comeback!
Then, I became the overconfident one. After I failed to score on back-to-back possessions, LeBron James was intentionally sent to the foul line, where he promptly hit consecutive freebies to make it 79-73 with 26 seconds left.
I called timeout and subbed in Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. I drove to the lane with Mo Williams, and lo and behold, Dorell Wright was wide open at the top of the three-point arc. LeBron charged at him, but it was too late. Wright drilled the three, making it 79-76 with 15 seconds left. It was exciting, but I still needed a miracle.
Andersen took the ball out underneath the basket once again, and this time he was able to connect with Wade. Had Wade just stood there like a statue, there's no way I could've won. But Swagga wanted the easy lay-up, and Michael Beasley was all by himself at the other end of the court. So he threw a full-court pass, much as he had to Andersen just a few minutes ago. Only this time, the pass was horribly off-line. Beasley caught it near the sideline, tip-toeing as best he could. But his right foot slid out of bounds, and just like that, I had the ball with a chance to tie the game.
No timeouts. Damian Lillard dribbled around the top of the key, hoping to find just enough separation to hoist a three that had a chance to connect. Under 10 seconds left. Suddenly, LeBron James came out to trap Lillard, and in a moment of epiphany, I swung it over to Dorell Wright, who I knew was wide-open at the middle right of the three-point line.
I hung in the air with Wright, waiting for him to reach the ascension of his jumper. And then I hammered the square button with my right thumb (Playstation, yo) and watched in silence as the ball got closer and closer to the rim, hoping desperately that I hadn't over-shot it.
Splash!! (I learned it from you, Chris Smoove.) Tie game, 79-79, with 4.9 seconds left! In just 141 seconds, I had outscored Swagga 17-2.
Out of timeouts, Swagga failed to hit a game-winning jumper, sending us to a three-minute overtime. Destiny was on my side. The virtual reality gods were going to curse Jay-_-Swagga for his hubris, and my victory was going to be the stuff of legends -- an inspiration to all dorky white dudes who suck at NBA 2K14. Or at least, that's what I told myself.
The extra period was a back-and-forth affair, with Swagga and I trading buckets on almost every possession. LaMarcus Aldridge was having success down low, while once again, Ray Allen was proving to be an annoying cover on offense.
With under a minute to play, I was again driving with Damian Lillard when deja vu struck. LeBron James came running at me from the top of the key, and yet again, Dorell Wright was all alone for an open three. By now, I had eternal confidence in Wright's long-range prowess, and he rewarded my trust, nailing yet another monster three to put the Blazers up 91-90 with 31.5 seconds left.
Swagga inbounded the ball from the length of the court. He crossed half court and dished it to Ray Allen, who was in the top left corner. I charged at him with Damian Lillard. I wasn't going to let Ray Allen beat me. Allen pump-faked, and I bit, leaping into the air. Allen drove to the right and might have taken a pull-up jumper right there. But something unexpected had happened. In celebrating Wright's go-ahead shot, three players on the Blazers bench had taken a step onto the court and were actually crowding around Allen at that exact moment. In fact, as Allen dribbled to the right, you can plainly see in the image below that Allen physically passed through Wesley Matthews, who had both feet planted firmly inbounds despite being out of the game.
I'd like to think that for just a split second, Ray Allen, Wesley Matthews and the basketball fused together and become one symbiotic being: "Raysley Matthen." I wondered what life would be like for this conjoined creature, how difficult it'd be logistically for Allen and Matthews to play for teams on opposite ends of the country. I wondered how Allen's wife Shannon would handle the news upon learning that her husband had actually melded with another human being. And would the basketball in Matthews' hip eventually deflate over time, or would the shared lungs of Allen and Matthews perpetually pump air into it until one of them died?
Anyway...Allen squared up along the right wing of the three-point line. He elevated for a shot. Aldridge was there, but I lunged at him with Meyers Leonard. At the last second, Swagga adjusted and passed the ball to Chris Andersen, who was open at the right box. Andersen immediately passed it to Beasley, who was right under the basket. I adjusted swiftly with Wright, but I was a half-second too late. Miami was up 92-91 with 22.1 seconds left.
Now it was my turn to respond. I drove to the right baseline with Lillard and was able to slip past Allen. It looked like I had an easy lay-up on my hands, but Andersen squeezed me along the baseline. Fortunately, LaMarcus Aldridge was right there to collect the rebound. After pump-faking to get Andersen into the air, I shot the ball and found the bottom of the net from just a couple feet away. 93-92, 11.4 to go.
After a timeout, Swagga gave the ball to LeBron James. I told myself that this was it. With the score uneven, there wasn't going to be a second overtime. The game was going to be decided by this one possession.
Less than 10 to go, LeBron was at the three-point line, Allen lurking dangerously elsewhere. I shielded LeBron with Wright, thinking that I'd give him enough room to drive, but not enough to blow past me completely. Mo Williams came over to double-team.
Five seconds left on the clock.
LeBron drove to the left to avoid getting trapped. The middle of the lane was clear, but Aldridge and Leonard were right in front of the basket. Four seconds left. LeBron was sprinting at an angle from Wright. He crossed the free-throw line. He leaped, elevating into the air for a left-handed, off-balanced lay-up. He got by Aldridge but Wright was there, his outstretched arm forcing LeBron's attempt to come at an angle. There was no way it could go in. It was over!
I watched in horror, my mouth agape, as Dorell Wright was called for a foul, presumably for grazing against LeBron as he was in mid-air.
After all the effort I'd exerted to vanquish this bastard, after doing everything in my power to procure a victory, I was going to lose this game in the same way the Mavericks lost to the Heat in the 2006 finals: horribly lame foul calls. Were virtual Dick Bavetta and virtual Bennett Salvatore making these calls? Do the Heat get all the calls even in the digital realm?
LeBron hit both. 94-93, with 2.5 seconds left.
I used my last timeout, knowing that it all came down to this. I had Lillard take the ball out from mid-court, just to make sure that I wouldn't throw the ball away. I thought about setting up a post play for Aldridge, but there were too many variables with him.
No, I was going to put the game in the hands of Dorell Wright, who'd been hitting all the clutch shots for me. For better or worse, the ship was gonna go down with D-Wright.
The official handed Lillard the ball. Wright was at the top of the key, defended by LeBron. This time, Swagga was controlling LBJ -- he wasn't going to let LeBron leave him for another open shot.
My plan was initially to drift backwards, to wander just long enough that I could pass the ball to Wright and have him hoist a reasonable three-pointer. Then an idea hit me. The lane was wide open. I had Wright make half a move to the right side and then immediately dart forward. Swagga, thinking that I was only interested in putting up a three, over-committed with LeBron and blew past him.
My eyes lit up. There was a clear path to the basket now. I raced into the lane with Wright and had Lillard feed him the ball immediately. LeBron turned and started sprinting towards him. Wright took one dribble and went up for a left-handed lay-up as LeBron flew into the picture, trying in vain to swat it out of bounds.
95-94, Portland with the lead, with 1.8 seconds.
Swagga called timeout. Again, I was on defense, guarding LeBron with D-Wright. Everyone was covered, even the illusive Ray Allen. Swagga was running out of time to inbound the ball. In desperation, he tried to connect with Michael Beasley, who was standing along the baseline. But the ball sailed past him out of bounds, giving me the rock again with the same 1.8 seconds on the clock.
I tossed it to Lillard, who was fouled with just 0.4 seconds to go. I drained both foul shots, making it 97-94. Swagga, with no more timeouts remaining, could do no better than a Ray Allen Hail Mary prayer from fifty feet away (it missed).
In the end, Mo Williams was named the game's MVP, though there was little doubt in my mind that it was Dorell Wright who deserved it. Wright finished with 17 points, all of which came in either the fourth quarter or overtime. Ray Allen finished with a silly 49 points on 12-29 shooting from the three-point line. The 12 three's tie the real-life single-game record held by Kobe Bryant and Donyell Marshall; the 29 attempts would be eight more than the current mark held by Damon Stoudamire (weirdly), who launched 21 three-balls in a game back in 2005. Chris Bosh, meanwhile, did not score.
So what's the ultimate moral from all this? Is it that being overly cocky can be a bad thing? Is that we should never give up, because no matter how down and out we think we may be, a comeback (figurative or literal) is always possible? Is it, perhaps, that I have too much time on my hands to be writing such elaborate recaps of random video game adventures?
No. (Well, maybe on that last one.)
The real lesson is that it's UNBELIEVABLY satisfying to crush an annoying jerkwad in a video game. Sure, Mr. Swagga probably resumed his life of pushing elderly women into crowded intersections and refusing to tip his waiters. But for one brief moment, this cocky, Miami-Heat playing fool was humbled.