Cavaliers Live by the Three-Ball, if Just for One Night

Just one season ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers were being defeated by the three-point shot on what appeared to be a nightly basis. Whether it were the Los Angeles Lakers or Minnesota Timberwolves, the opposition drained the long-range shot with ease as the Wine and Gold allowed a league-worst 41.1 three-point field goal percentage.

Compiling their issues was the fact that the Cavs were not exactly rife with shooters when the ball was in their possession; this was even more so when Ramon Sessions (a career 21.4 percent shooter from three-point range) would sub in for Mo Williams (38.6 percent).

But just as the 2011-12 season has graced Cleveland with a breath of fresh air in terms of roster and attitude, a novation of play has apparently been instilled as well with the Cavaliers using the vaunted three-point field goal to their advantage. While they have marginally improved in defending the shot, allowing the opposition to convert at a rate of 36.5 percent, they are certainly coming out on the better half of the differential, hitting their own three-point attempts at a rate of 41 percent.

In Sunday night’s 98-82 win over the New Jersey Nets, the Cavaliers hit 16 of their 26 attempts while holding the Brooklyn-bound to 7-of-22. The Cavs, on Sunday, ran 24 percent of their plays in a “spot-up” fashion which lead to 1.17 points per possession as 16 of said plays were three-point attempts. The six percent that they ran off of a screen took that mark to 1.83 points. Of their 11 plays in transition, three of them resulted in three-point attempts with the  Cavs draining two of them.

For the first time in team history, per Elias, the Cavs hit at least 16 three-point field goals while shooting at least 61.5 percent. The 16 conversions were also the most hit by any team in a game this season which says a lot considering that the Wine and Gold barely crack the top 10 in long-range attempts. Aiding these numbers was the team’s best marksman, Daniel Gibson, who hit five of his seven attempts.  But this season, unlike last, Boobie has some help in the long distance department.

Much has been written about Sessions’ new-found three-point stroke that was allegedly the product of an extended offseason – he made three three-point field goals through all of 2010-11 and has four so far this season. Along with Sessions is the vast improvement in swingman Alonzo Gee who shot 34.7 percent from three-point land for the Cavaliers last season but is 5-of-10 thus far in 2011-12 including three bombs (a career high on five attempts) in Sunday’s win.  Couple this all with the confidence of rookie point guard Kyrie Irving – who hit his first, second and third threes as a professional on Sunday – and the addition of small forward Omri Casspi and the Cavs may actually have the firepower to keep opposing defenses on their toes.  Several times on Sunday, the Nets found themselves caught in rotations that simply couldn’t keep up with Cleveland’s ball movement. The result, an open look and – 61.5 percent of the time – three points.

If all of this chucking makes fans nervous, fear not as you’re in good company.  Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott isn’t exactly sold on this team being able to sustain such a solid conversion rate throughout the season, but is certainly comfortable with them taking shots if they are within the flow of the game rather than being rooted in laziness.

“I think we have some guys that are capable of knocking down some three’s on a consistent basis, but when we do it in the flow of the game,” said Scott following Sunday’s win. “When we just try to take it upon ourselves and do it, we’re not very good. When we just let the ball find the open guy like we did in the second half, we’re a pretty good three-point shooting team.”

As Nets coach Avery Johnson stated, this could all just be a case of the Cavaliers getting hot at the right time.  Coming into the evening, Casspi was struggling from his usual spot of success and is still only shooting at a 28.6 percent clip.  Irving had not made a three to that point.  The Cavs were 5-of-25 from three-point range against the Indiana Pacers just one game earlier, 6-of-20 on Opening Night. As Scott stated, you don’t want to fall into the trap of settling. But when it’s working, as it was on Sunday night, there’s little sense in changing things up.

(Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

  • Mason

    It would be great to see the Cavs become the kind of team that isn’t defined by one particular style of offense. To have the depth to play to the rim one night, then shoot mostly from the outside another, all while competing. We have some smart, talented guys, I think it’s possible.

  • Harv 21

    What I saw was a lot of unselfishness, guys swinging the ball quickly and eagerly which resulted in a ton of wide open threes they could hardly turn down. By contrast, the Nets were sweating out their hangovers with a ton of whirling drives to the hole. Then Tristan came in and put a stop to some of that nonsense.

    Can’t stop being impressed with some of this kid’s qualities, especially the IRH (Innate Rebound Hunger). Coaches can scream for it all they want but that doesn’t work for long if at all. We now have 2 guys with it and the younger one can jump like a young Larry Nance. If he develops some pet moves on offense …

  • matthew

    “Compiling their issues were the fact that the Cavs were not exactly rife with shooters when the ball was in their possession; this was even more-so when Ramon Sessions (a career 21.4 percent shooter from three-point range) would sub in for Mo Williams (38.6 percent).”

    This is a thoughtful post, but this sentence is a real clunker.