By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com
One could say the Cleveland Cavaliers made 3-pointers looks like lay-ups during their conference semifinal series against the Atlanta Hawks. That wouldn’t be entirely accurate, though, because the Cavaliers cashed a higher percentage of their shots from beyond the arc than they did on attempts within five feet of the hoop.
That’s just one of the inexplicable factoids to emerge from Cleveland’s impressive march to the Eastern Conference finals, which has left a pair of shell-shocked teams in its wake. PointAfter‘s visualizations help illustrate just how deadly the Cavs’ offense has been.
Previously, only one team in NBA history had made at least 43 percent of its 3-pointers while attempting at least 31 of them in back-to-back playoff games (Dallas Mavericks, Games 2-3 of Western Conference semifinals). The Cavaliers have now done so for four games running following their sweep of the Hawks — something no other team has accomplished during the regular season or playoffs.
In fact, no playoff team had shot 43 percent on 3-pointers (on a minimum of 18 attempts) in four straight games.
Overall, the Cavs have improved their 3-point accuracy by 10 percent after a regular-season mark of 36.2 percent. They’ve accordingly emphasized 3-pointers by attempting 22.2 percent more of those shots in the playoffs than in the regular season.
Put another way, Cleveland has launched 6.7 more 3-point attempts per game while making 6.1 more per game. Those extra trifectas have certainly paid dividends.
Their dismantling of the Hawks was demoralizing for Atlanta after it thought it could compete with Cleveland thanks to a league-best defensive rating since the All-Star break. But Cleveland unlocked Atlanta’s seemingly cohesive unit in the series, shooting 50.7 percent on 3-pointers (and 46.1 percent overall) en route to a 123.0 offensive rating.
Dating back to last year, Cleveland hasn’t lost a playoff game with Kevin Love available. That’s no coincidence. Love has been the X-factor for coach Tyronn Lue’s crew, executing his role as a stretch-four to perfection. He outplayed Al Horford and Paul Millsap on the boards while also providing ample spacing on offense. The Hawks dared him to shoot, and he responded by taking nearly eight 3-pointers a game at a 44 percent clip.
Though Love has struggled to find his low-post offense, making 28.6 percent of his shots in the restricted area, it’s scarcely mattered. He’s knocked down more than half his looks on corner 3-pointers, and is keeping opponents honest on long-range launches from above the break, too.
Love is far from the only Cavalier who has ramped up his splashy shooting. J.R. Smith cemented his legacy as a Hawks nemesis, following up on his remarkable sixth-man performance in the 2015 Eastern Conference finals (18.0 points per game on 47.1 percent 3-point shooting) to average 11.0 points on 50 percent 3-point shooting in the 2016 East semis. His 50.8 percent shooting on 3-pointers in the playoffs mirrors Cleveland’s double-digit improvement from the regular season.
At their current rate of 16.8 3-pointers made per game, Cleveland should be favored to shatter Golden State’s record of 240 made triples during the 2015 postseason. Golden State set that mark in 21 games … Cleveland is on pace to surpass it in 15.
At this point, the biggest obstacle to establishing a new record might be their own dominance.
If they breeze through either the Toronto Raptors or Miami Heat before taking part in The Finals, the Cavs might not accrue enough time to make another mark in the playoff record book.