- Series Hub: Spurs-Heat
MIAMI — Add one more to the list of 3-point records set this season.
Stephen Curry broke Ray Allen‘s record for most threes in a single season, hitting 272. The New York Knicks (891) and Houston Rockets (867) each eclipsed the previous record (841) for most 3-pointers by a team, while the Golden State Warriors become the ninth team in NBA history to shoot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc, attempting more threes than all but one of the previous eight. As a whole, the league attempted 4,445 more threes and made 1,251 more than it ever had.
Danny Green almost got the San Antonio Spurs their fifth NBA championship with a Finals record 27 threes. And when the Miami Heat finally got control of Green, Shane Battier shot them to their third title with six threes on Thursday, the most anyone has made in a Finals Game 7. LeBron James, meanwhile, finally made the Spurs pay for their sagging defense by hitting five threes himself.
Yes, 3-pointers are important. Of the 21 “Impact Plays” measured over the course of The Finals, 12 were shots from beyond the arc. And that doesn’t include Allen’s three to tie Game 6 with 5.2 seconds left.
You can have offensive success by taking care of the ball, getting to the free throw line or crashing the boards and giving yourself second chances. But the most important thing you can do offensively is shoot the ball well. And as we learned from the Spurs’ defensive improvement this season, the most important thing you can do defensively is prevent your opponent from doing the same.
The Heat and Spurs ranked second and fourth, respectively, in 3-point percentage during the season. Miami surrounded James and Dwyane Wade with shooters, while the Spurs complemented Tony Parker and Tim Duncan with the same. They opened up the floor and forced defenses to pick their poison. Do you want to let one of the league’s best finishers get to the basket or do you want to leave a deadly shooter open in the corner?
The Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies lacked shooters, but ranked first and second in the league at defending the 3-point line. They had the one-on-one defenders and rim protectors that allowed teammates to stay at home on the perimeter. But Tony Allen‘s defense can only get you so far if he can’t make a shot from outside the paint.
You can bet that the Pacers and Grizzlies, along with the Denver Nuggets and Chicago Bulls — two more contenders that ranked in the bottom 10 in 3-point percentage — will be in the market for shooting this summer. Free agents Kyle Korver and J.J. Redick will be getting plenty of phone calls on July 1.
This is the way the league is going. The Phoenix Suns led the league in offensive efficiency for six straight seasons when they surrounded Steve Nash‘s pick-and-roll brilliance with shooting. The Orlando Magic got to The Finals by putting a bunch of shooters around Dwight Howard and his rolls to the rim.
And now, with most of the league’s best defenses looking to load up on the strong side, it’s never been more important to space the floor. The Lakers had both Nash and Howard, but couldn’t match the Suns’ or Magic’s success with Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace at the forward positions. And the Brooklyn Nets struggled against Tom Thibodeau‘s defense when Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans shared the floor.
The Spurs, with their ball movement and weak-side shooting, were able to make the Heat pay for their aggressiveness much more than the Pacers could. And the Heat, with James and his snipers, gave the Spurs tougher defensive decisions than the Grizzlies did.
Until Battier busted out of his slump in the final two games of The Finals, the Heat basically had two guys who could shoot, Allen and Mike Miller. And in the 103 postseason minutes in which those two were on the floor together, Miami’s offense was absolutely deadly, scoring 129 points per 100 possessions (or 115 points per 48 minutes).
James’ attacks and ridiculous bullet passes had a lot to do with that, but Allen and Miller made things easier for the MVP because opponents were afraid to leave them open beyond the arc. Neither hit a three in Game 7, but Battier and James picked up the slack and the Heat finished the season 34-2 (3-1 in The Finals) when they made at least 10 threes.
Miami won the 2011-12 championship without Allen, but they pursued him aggressively last summer, knowing what may be the No. 1 guideline in putting together an NBA team right now. Allen ended up proving his worth in Game 6 and Battier did likewise in Game 7.
In short, you can never have too much shooting.