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How the Cleveland Cavaliers Learned to Love the Three-Point Bomb
- Updated: April 9, 2016
The year was 1964. The Cleveland Browns stunned the pro football world that December by shutting out the Baltimore Colts in the NFL championship game. Eleven months earlier, a movie premiered in theaters titled “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”
If the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to end the city’s well-chronicled title drought which has gone on for more than half a century since, it could be in major part because they have learned to stop worrying about what others might say about their reliance on the three-point shot and love what has become an integral component to winning consistently in the NBA.
Including their 109-80 trouncing Tuesday night of the Milwaukee Bucks, the Cavs were bombing away at an unprecedented pace. They had at least 10 three-pointers in 16 consecutive games (until Wednesday), tying the longest streak in the league all season set by the Golden State Warriors. Best of all, their record over that stretch was 12-4.
Only the Warriors are making more threes per contest. During March, more than 40 percent of the Cavs’ field-goal attempts were from long-range. And in their 112-103 victory Sunday over the Charlotte Hornets, they went a torrid 16-of-29, with J.R. Smith and Kevin Love combining to go 11-of-17.
Veteran Richard Jefferson, a 39-percent three-point shooter in his first season with the Cavs, expressed to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal his awe of Smith’s marksmanship following a win in which LeBron James never attempted a three and Kyrie Irving was not in uniform because of an ankle injury:
“That’s what he does. That’s who he is,” Jefferson said. “His 3-point shooting is like … LeBron’s athleticism. It’s Kyrie’s ball handling. That’s what makes him unique and special. We’re not surprised he’s doing it.”
Smith’s six three-pointers Sunday gave him a career-high 190 for the season. Three more on his way to a 21-point performance against the Bucks enabled him to break Wes Person’s franchise record of 192 set in 1997-98. And with 843 successful threes through 79 games, the Cavs have broken their single-season record of 826 established a year ago.
Here’s how much things have changed in a quarter-century: The Cavs led the NBA in 1989-90 in three-pointers attempted — not made, but attempted — with 851.
Love has already taken (425) and connected on (152) more attempts than he did in his first season in Cleveland. But in terms of sheer accuracy, Matthew Dellavedova leads the way. According to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today, the top guard off the Cavs’ bench has increased his catch-and-shoot three-point percentage from 41.4 last season to 47.7 this season, which is fourth-best among players with more than 100 attempts.
“He’s an over 40 percent three-point shooter, and Delly can make those shots,” said coach Tyronn Lue. “He’s proven to make those shots. Made big shots in the Finals for us. If teams are going to give him that, I’m comfortable with that.”
While James could finish the season shooting below 30 percent from long-range for the first time since he was a rookie in 2003-04, his willingness to defer to others in that category has been noteworthy as of late. In wins over the Hornets and Brooklyn Nets, he handed out 23 assists while not hoisting up a single three.
With both Love and Irving sidelined by injuries for a large chunk of the Cavs’ march to the Finals last spring, James had to take a career-high 110 three-pointers during the playoffs. It’s a given that he will command and sometimes demand the ball when the pace of play tends to slow down in the postseason.
But between Smith, Love, Irving, Dellavedova, Jefferson and now Channing Frye, the options at their disposal from long-range are almost endless.
As long as they keep embracing the strategy of spacing defenses and firing away, a championship will remain well within their line of sight.