The 3-point line, either making or defending, is the path to NBA success
PORTLAND, Ore. – Five times Sunday, Damian Lillard was at least 29 feet from the basket and still launched a shot. Four times he made it.
That’s the basketball equivalent of a 50-foot putt. Welcome to the modern NBA. If the 3-point line is guarded, don’t go around the defender. Scoot back.
Pro basketball has become a game of mathematics. Three-point shots have become paramount. Win the 3-point game, win the actual game.
Through the first three days of the NBA playoffs, 10 games were played. Only one of the 10 was won by a team that had fewer 3-pointers and a worse 3-point percentage than its opponents.
All of the Game 1 upsets were fueled by the 3-point line.
Brooklyn made 11 of 26 3-pointers (42.3 percent), Philadelphia made just three of 25 (12 percent) and the Nets won 111-102 Saturday.
Orlando made 14 of 29 3-pointers (48.3 percent), Toronto made 12 of 36 (33.3 percent) and the Magic squeaked by 104-101.
San Antonio made seven of 15 3-pointers (46.7 percent), Denver made six of 28 (21.4 percent) and the Spurs pulled off a 101-96 upset.
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Even the Clippers’ 135-131 upset of Golden State in Game 2 Monday night was courtesy of the 3-point line. LA made more (14, to the Warriors’ 11) and shot a better percentage (45.2, 39.3).
And now you know why the Thunder keeps shooting 3-pointers, even when they’re not falling, as they didn’t in Game 1 Sunday. Teams no longer can survive in the league without making 3-pointers.
Heck, the TrailBlazers weren’t even happy with their 3-point defense after a game in which OKC made just five of 33 deep balls.
“A lot of times, it was Paul George,” Lillard said. “I think he shot half of them (actually 14, making five), and he’s the last guy we want shooting those shots. Some of the ones he got were open, and he just happened to miss them.
“We don’t want to give that many 3-point attempts up. Anytime you allow a team to take that many threes, it’s not good if they make 13 or 14 of those. We’ve got to tighten up and try not to allow that. But we love it when they miss them.”
Do you realize what Lillard is saying? It’s not that NBA defenses want to make opponents miss 3-pointers. They don’t want them taking 3-pointers.
The math is just too oppressive. With 33.3 percent 3-point shooting matching 50 percent 2-point shooting, and the league being infiltrated with better and better shooters, who are more and more adept at the deep ball, the analytics prove that 3-point shots are the boulevard to victory. Even for poor-shooting teams like the Thunder.
OKC actually had to feel rather solid about its defense Sunday. The Blazers made 11 of 25 3-pointers; holding Portland to 33 points on 3-pointers is a solid outing, since 11 made 3-pointers a game is what the Blazers averaged in the regular season.
And that’s why Portland wasn’t crazy about its defense Sunday, even though the Thunder made just 15.2 percent on 3-point shots.
George’s outside shooting is the Thunder’s ticket. If George doesn’t make many 3’s, the Thunder is hard-pressed to win, and if George doesn’t take many 3’s, it’s hard to make many 3’s.
“To be honest, I think we gave him too many open three looks,” said Portland coach Terry Stotts. “And that’s going to be a concern going into Game 2.”
Stotts has done the math. All of the NBA has done the math.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.