Three Point Shooting can save the Finals for Cleveland


If you ate a cookie every time someone said the NBA "is a make or miss league," you would get very fat very fast. It's easy to say, it's easy to explain, and it's true: If a team makes their shots, they tend to win games. If they miss shots, they tend to lose games. Simple.

Through the first three rounds of the playoffs, the Cavaliers made shots. Cleveland made 43.6% of their three-pointers against Boston (4-1 win), 46.6% of them against Toronto (4-0 win), and 40% against Indiana (4-0, although they were closer games). Through those three rounds, the Cavaliers won games.

In the first three games of the Finals, the Cavs shot 35%, 27%, and 27% on three-pointers. Surprise! The Cavs lost those three games. In game three, if the Cavs had just made two more of their 44 attempts, they would have won.

For the record, Cleveland shot over 38% from deep on the season, which would have meant five more makes in game three, three more in game two, and one more in game one. Not Earth-shattering, but enough to change the vibe of the series.

In game four, obviously, the Cavs shot the lights out, going 24-45 (53%) from beyond the arc. If they'd hit 38% of their threes, they would have scored 21 fewer points, and that was the final point-spread. 24 was an NBA Finals record for most made three-pointers in NBA history, but it's not a record for the Cavs. That means it's not a complete outlier.

There are two ways to look at this, so let's dive in.

Looking on the Bright Side

The Cavs are worlds better than their games 1-3 shooting performances and a bit worse than their game four performance. However, the rule of averages suggests that they'll overperform at least one more time to even things out a bit. The Cavs are still just under 37% for the series, so imagine they shoot about 40% on three-pointers in game five. That's usually enough to win a game.

If the Cavs make 15-20 threes per game - and particularly if they do it while making 40% of them - that's enough to have hope for a win. Cleveland only made eight and 12 in games 2 and 3, respectively. Despite those low numbers, the Cavs are still averaging 14.4 made three-pointers per game.

As I mentioned here, Cleveland's rotation players were shooting about 30% on three-pointers when there was no defender within four feet. That's atrocious. Those shots will start falling. If they do, there aren't a lot of teams who can stop the Cavs.

Furthermore, they're getting chances. The Cavs have taken 58 three-pointers with the nearest defender within four to six feet and another 49 three-pointers with no defender within six feet. That's bonkers. They've made 37 of them. Total. 37-108 on open shots is not great for a potent shooting team. That's bound to change. That's why there's reason for optimism in Cleveland.

Looking on the Dark Side

Simply put, the Cavaliers lost the first three games of the series. They're playing against quite possibly the best team in NBA history. They're playing against four top-20 players. They're playing against at least three and possibly four future Hall-of-Famers. They're playing against home-court advantage. They're a bit older and slower than Golden State. They're cold-shooting. They're facing a probably insurmountable challenge.

The pessimistic side also says that, while the Cavs shooting was drastically better in game four, Golden State can clamp down on defense again. The Cavs also have a habit of shooting from deep when they're not sure what else to do. The offense bogs down and they force up shots. Admittedly, the Cavs have great shooters, but it's not as useful as a drive-and-kick.

Conventional wisdom obviously favors the Warriors. They've been the better team all year long, they've got the best roster, and they've got home-court advantage. But any Cavs fan will point out that the Cavs were probably the better team against the 2009 Magic, but when a team gets hot, there's not a lot you can do. 

The Cavs definitely have a chance in Game 5. Golden State better finish it now, because if they don't, the "here we go again" pressure plus a trip back to Cleveland could be enough to turn the series.

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