The Importance of the Three-Pointer in This Year's NBA Finals
"The Warriors are going to kill the Cavs without two of their big three."
"There's no question the Warriors have the advantage from beyond the arc in this series."
Does this sound familiar? If you watched the regular season at all, I understand why. You were probably saying this before the NBA Finals got underway this past week...and rightfully so.
Our algorithm gave the Cavs just a 21.26% chance of winning the title -- 5.31% less than the Warriors' 26.57% chance to take the series in five games.
Well, the Cavs still aren't favored to win it all, by our calculations. However, they have impressively narrowed the gap to nearly 50-50 after taking Games 2 and 3 without LeBron's two main sidekicks.
How have they done it?
The Cavs' success comes down to a number of reasons -- LeBron being LeBron, great team defense, and the tenacious (not dirty) and terrific individual defense of none other than Matthew Dellavedova, to name a few. But, one way they find themselves up two games to one is a real head scratcher -- the Cavaliers are beating the Warriors (and the Splash Brothers) from three-point land.
Yes, you read that right.
The Warriors were the NBA's best three-point shooting team during the regular season. The operative term here being "regular season." During the season, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and company ranked fourth in the NBA in three-point attempts (27.0 per game), second in three-point makes (10.8 per game) and first in three-point percentage (39.8%). Curry and Thompson led the way with 3.6 and 3.1 treys per game, respectively, while shooting over 44% as a duo.
The Cavs were not the NBA's best three-point shooting team coming into the postseason, but they weren't far behind. Cleveland ended the regular season ranked second in three-point attempts (27.5 per game), fourth in three-point makes (10.1) and fifth in three-point percentage (36.7%). Their three-point offense was largely led by two guys who haven't been on the court for Games 2 and 3, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, who, when taken away from this team, take their 4.0 threes per game combined with them.
Outside of Irving and Love, J.R. Smith led the attack from range with his 2.8 threes per game on 39% shooting. He's the only one of the three left, yet the Cavs have managed to outshoot the Warriors from downtown.
Through three games, whichever team has shot the better percentage from three has won. In Game 1, Golden State outshot Cleveland (with Kyrie for most of the game) 37% to 29%. In Game 2, the Cavs made nine threes on 33% shooting, holding the Warriors to nine threes (under 23%) on 35 attempts from outside the arc, ultimately winning in overtime.
Game 3 is even more telling. The Cavaliers, for the third straight game, made nine threes, doing so on 42.9% shooting from three-point range. The Warriors made 12 threes, but did so while taking 34 attempts, finishing with a percentage of 35.3%. Golden State ended up with more makes, this series has been more about quality than quantity.
In the three games, the Warriors have tallied 96 three-point attempts and, per basketball-reference.com, have an average three-point attempt rate (3PAr) of 36.9%. The Cavaliers, on the other hand, have tallied just 79 attempts and possess an average 3PAr of 30.2%.
The Cavs' appreciation of quality over quantity has given them a three percent edge, 34.2% to 31.2%, in three-point shooting percentage on the series. More importantly, Cleveland has shot 37.5% to Golden State's 29% over the Cavaliers' two wins, and have made just two fewer threes than their counterparts on 21 fewer attempts.
Once again, the Warriors are living and dying by the three. They'll need to be a little more efficient in doing so if they want to win this series though.