Cleveland’s Single-Game Three-Point Record Was Inevitable

Last night, the Cavs were on fire from beyond the arc, but their record-setting game wasn't very surprising.

The NBA's dependence on the three-point shot is no longer news.

In the three-point era (since 1979-80), three of the top five teams by Three-Point Attempt Rate (the percentage of a team's field goal attempts were three-pointers) came from this season.

Five of the top 10 were from 2015-16, and seven of the top 14 were, too. With the increase in volume from beyond the arc, volume-based three-point records are bound to fall.

Last night against the Atlanta Hawks, the Cleveland Cavaliers set the NBA record for most three-pointers in a game with 25 long-range makes.

After making 18 of 27 from deep in the first half, the record was pretty inevitable, but it wasn't until 2:24 left in the game -- when they were up 117-94 -- that they hit the 24th three-pointer.

Why were they shooting threes with that kind of a lead?

Well, Cleveland clearly ruffled some feathers by shooting from deep with the game in hand.

Atlanta power forward Paul Millsap had some words about it.

"I'm not mad about it, but just being professionals man. If that's how you want to approach it, that's how you approach it. I think our team and our organization has class and I don't think we would have continued to do that, but other organizations do other things so what can you do about it?"

Eternally underrated center Al Horford said, "We probably wouldn't do anything like that."

The thing is, though, that the Cavs looked pretty inevitable to set this record. And the Hawks were just a prime candidate to allow it.

Cleveland's Love for the Three

So, remember how three of the five-most three-point heavy teams in history played this season?

Fifth on that list were the 2015-16 Cavaliers, who shot a three-pointer on 35.2% of their field goal attempts. The league average was 28.5% this year.

They were above-average percentage-wise, making 36.3% of their three-point attempts compared to the NBA average of 35.4%. The volume and success were bound to lead them to good things. They ranked second in the NBA in three-point makes this season at 880 -- well behind the mark of the Golden State Warriors' 1,077. The Houston Rockets (878), the Charlotte Hornets (873), and the Portland Trail Blazers (864) were within striking distance of the Cavs' second-place rank, but this Cavaliers squad has ramped up their outside game in the playoffs.

Through six playoff games, the Cavaliers own a Three-Point Attempt Rate of 42.5%, which is the highest all-time among playoff teams.

In the first-round, their rate was 41.3%, tops among first-round squads and fourth-highest all-time.

The volume is there, and they also have been gifted the right opponent to make such a record work. (To be clear, the Cavs did shoot 45 three-pointers on 87 total field goal attempts, giving them a Three-Point Rate greater than 50% in their record-setting Game 2.)

The Hawks currently are allowing a three-point attempt on 37.5% of opponent field goal attempts, which ranks second in the postseason behind, you guessed it, you sagacious reader, the Detroit Pistons, Cleveland's first-round opponent.

It's not just because they're playing the Cavs, either. The Hawks surrendered a shot from beyond the arc 35.2% of the time against the Boston Celtics in the first round, third-highest in the first round. It also ranks 12th-highest among first-round teams in playoff history.

Three-point percentage is a bad indicator of defensive success, and the best way to defend from beyond the arc is to limit opponent attempts. That's why this matters.


Remember how some Hawks players got salty at what Cleveland did? Of course you do.

Wingman Kent Bazemore got a little more philosophical with it, saying, "I'm a firm believer in karma [...] Maybe we'll be the team to break that record soon."

He may not have known what he was saying, but he's not wrong. And that's why the Hawks can't be mad about all of this.

Atlanta shot 36.7% of their own attempts from deep in the first round, second only to the Cavs. That mark ranked fifth-highest all-time among playoff teams in the opening round.

Highest First-Round Three-Point Attempt Rates in Playoff History Season 3PAr
Atlanta Hawks 2013-14 0.417
Houston Rockets 2012-13 0.416
Cleveland Cavaliers 2015-16 0.413
Orlando Magic 2007-08 0.378
Atlanta Hawks 2015-16 0.367
Atlanta Hawks 2014-15 0.362

And, oh, look! The Hawks surely love the three-ball early in the playoffs. They've got three of the six highest opening-round Three-Point Attempt Rates in playoff history.

And their overall rate this postseason is pretty high, too.

Highest Playoff Three-Point Attempt Rates in Playoff History Season 3PAr
Cleveland Cavaliers 2015-16 0.425
Atlanta Hawks 2013-14 0.417
Houston Rockets 2012-13 0.416
Golden State Warriors 2006-07 0.382
Orlando Magic 2009-10 0.380
Atlanta Hawks 2015-16 0.372


Now, yes, there's a clear line between playing a certain style and running up the score, but the Hawks -- if variance falls in their favor during a given 48-minute stretch -- could easily break the record because of how often they shoot the three-pointer.

Unfortunately for them, the Cavs ranked better than league average in Three-Point Attempt Rate in the regular season (27.7% compared to the average of 28.5%). That has, though, gone up to 33.6% in the postseason, so maybe the Hawks can try to return the favor in Game 3.