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On the Night Anfernee Simons Became a Blowtorch

Portland’s young guard had an earth-shaking third quarter against the Nuggets, helping the Blazers remain undefeated

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

In basketball, a heater is an extended flow state, a prolonged period of Zen. The hands get hot and the rim gets reasonable, and the basket’s the size of Mars. A heater is made of heat checks. A heat check is an insult. It is an absurd shot, designed to demoralize, taken with gusto. One that says to the defense, “You are nothing.” A heat check is a prank, a public pantsing. It is self-belief on a grand scale and an invitation for fans to party. It is a choice for joy and confrontation. It is a player surfing in their own wake. It is, “I don’t think you have the facilities for that, big man.” It is, “How much you want to make a bet I can throw a football over them mountains?” It is, “I want to see you outside, wearing iron.” It is, “I am God, the great inevitability, and now is your time to die.”

Anfernee Simons had a heater against the Nuggets on Monday night that ripped the fabric of reality. Other ways to put it—Anfernee Simons blacked out. Anfernee Simons snapped. Anfernee Simons was on [13 fire emoji]. Picture Simons wearing a smile and the blood of his enemies. Picture Simons in a Z-Bo throwback, looking for trouble. Picture Simons lighting a brick of Black Cats and screaming, “Let’s make some noise.”

It started around the 9:50 mark in the third quarter. Simons came off a Jusuf Nurkic ball screen, slid his way past Nikola Jokic, and laid one off the glass. The bucket tied the game at 64 and was the first make of what would be a nuclear run.

The next possession Nurkic set another ball screen at the top of the key. This time Simons pulled up and cashed one from just beyond the elbow. Following that was a 30-foot bomb from above the timeline with Jamal Murray and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope flying at him. Shot it from the Astrology and Tarot section of Women & Women First!

Next possession Simons hit MPJ with a stepback 3 off the dribble. The Portland crowd was very much percolating at this point, fiending for more. 74-70 Blazers. A minute later Simons dropped in a deep 3 off the catch. And a minute after that he hit another. And the possession after that he hit another. It was a text-your-friend-are-you-watching-this run, a timeline-dominating bacchanal of shotmaking.

The final haymaker landed on the next possession. Simons came off a handoff at the top of the key and sized up Caldwell-Pope. He took his time, rocked him a little, then rose for another 3. Bang. 90-77 Blazers. Chaos in the Moda Center, the Portland crowd blood-drunk and delirious; the Portland bench, a mob of red and black jumping and skipping in place, suggesting Michael Malone call a timeout. Announcers Kevin Calabro and Lamar Hurd doing their best Brick Tamland impersonations and Dame bursting, his arms spread wide. You could practically hear the “Look at my beautiful boy!” You could practically hear the [rabid screams of ecstasy]. You could practically hear the “Yes! Look what I have created! I have made fire! I! Have made fire!”

Simons had been firing early this year without much success. Before Monday night, through (a wildly small sample size of) three games, he was shooting 33.9 percent from the field and 20.8 percent from 3 on eight attempts a game. This didn’t deter his teammates from getting him the ball. “Everyone’s been telling me ‘keep shooting’ over the past couple games,” Simons said.

He rewarded their confidence on Monday. The heater hit and all hell broke loose. He was an open flame in the third, running around, lighting everything on fire. All told, Simons had 22 in the quarter, went 8-for-9 from the field, and 6-for-7 from 3. During one three-and-a-half-minute stretch alone he scored 18 and hit six 3s in a row. He finished with 29.

The barrage made the place so loud Lillard thought the roof might go, so loud he thought the crowd was about to fall onto the court. He and Simons combined for 60 and the Blazers are 4-0 and fun, alone at the top of the West, them and the Bucks the lone remaining unbeatens.

More shallow than that, though, with multiple young dudes capable of long-distance air shows and hardcore rim attacks, Portland may well be on the precipice of being properly cool. This too is a virtue. “I guess I was hot,” Simons told The Rose Garden Report. Seems like a pretty solid hypothesis, well reasoned. “After the fourth one, I shot a top-of-the-key one where I fell down and I was like, ‘I guess it was one of those nights.’”

Another wise guess from the man with the blowtorch.