CLEVELAND—A three-pointer for you Matthew Dellavedova, and a three-pointer for you Channing Frye. And two threes for you Richard Jefferson and three for you Kevin Love. And four each for LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, and seven—Seven!—for you J.R. Smith.
When the steady rainbow of threes stopped falling through the net (25-for-45, 55.6 percent), the Cavs were headed for their easiest victory of the postseason.The Cavaliers pummeled the Atlanta Hawks with a barrage of threes, making a playoff-record 25 three-pointers, including another playoff-record 18 threes—18!—in the first half. It was the most three-pointers in any NBA game, regular season or playoffs.
“Tonight was a special night for our organization,” James said.
Cleveland soundly defeated Atlanta, 123-98, in Game Two on Wednesday, taking a 2-0 series lead in this Eastern Conference semifinal series.
“It was beautiful to watch,” Cavs Coach Tyronn Lue said. “I thought we made the right play. We made the right pass. The ball moved and guys got their shots.”
With no way of knowing what Game Two would hold, Lue did emphasize pregame the types of shots the Cavs were looking for.
“If you can shoot 40 percent, that would be great for us,” Lue said before Game Two. “At times you’re not going to make shots. My whole thing to my team is to continue to preach, ‘If you’re open and it’s you’re shot, you’ve got to take it and take it with confidence.’ Because the way teams are playing us, the way Atlanta’s playing us, they’re packing the paint, so guys are going to have to make open shots.”
James, who moved past Tim Duncan and into fifth-place on the all-time playoff scoring list, finished with 27 points on 9-for-15 shooting. He did not play in the fourth quarter.
With his dad, Earl, watching from the fifth row of Quicken Loans Arena, Cavs guard J.R. Smith scored 23 points and made 7-for-13 threes, and Irving had 19 points. Love had 11 points and 13 rebounds and has recorded a double-double in every playoff game this season.
“J.R. Smith is the only one on the team who has the ultra-green light,” James said. Ten Cavs players made at least one three, and three-ball is Cleveland’s best friend through six playoff games.
The Cavaliers are the best three-point shooting team in the 2016 NBA playoffs, making 16.2 threes per game and shooting 45.3 percent from that distance—both No. 1 in the postseason. They also have attempted the most threes per game (35.7).
The maxim used to be “Live by the three, die by three.” But that’s no longer the case in today’s NBA where greater importance has been placed on taking and making threes.
With the ability of James and Love to post-up near the basket and Irving’s flair for driving to the basket, defenses collapse, leaving shooters, such as Smith, Jefferson, Frye and Dellavedova open at the three-point. Love, James and Irving are also more than capable of making threes.
The Cavs were also one of the best three-point shooting teams during the regular season, and they have the personnel to do it. If a team can’t make the three with some degree of efficiency, it cannot survive. Not in an 82-game season. Not in the playoffs.
If a team must make threes in the NBA, it must also defend that shot, too. The Hawks scrambled on defense most of the game unable to keep up with Cleveland’s ball movement—the extra pass leading to better, wide-open shots. In the end, Cleveland finished with 27 assists on 41 made baskets.
“For the last month and a half, that’s pretty much the way we’ve been playing,” Lue noted. “We’ve been sharing the basketball, playing at a high tempo, moving bodies. The last month of the season, we were assisting on about 70 percent of our shots.”
The Cavs made eight three-pointers in the first quarter, 10 in the second, four in the third and three in the third. Cleveland scored 39 points in the second quarter and led, 74-38, at halftime.
After Game Two against the first round against the Detroit Pistons, the Cavs made 20 threes. Asked if the Cavs start hunting threes, James gave a counterintuitive answer.
“I’m a true believer in the ball having energy,” James said. When you’ve got guys that’s making shots, it’s a conscious effort for me to not fall into it. When my shooters got it going, I have to be the one to say, ‘Ok, well, you need to get to the rim. You need to continue to put pressure on the defense,’ because I don’t want to add to the burden of us just casting three-point shots.”
He added: “We have shooters. They are designated snipers, and that’s what we got them for and I’m not one of them. I’m more like a tank or something like that.”
Snipers, tanks, it didn’t matter. The Cavs had an all-out assault on the Hawks.
Image credits: AP