The NBA Finals Are a 3-Point Contest Now
If Game 1 was any indication, Celtics-Warriors is going to come down to which team makes more shots from downtown
“’You’ll shoot your eye out,’” I kept thinking while watching Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday,” Nate Silver wrote for FiveThirtyEight in 2015. “The Warriors hoisted 35 3-point attempts and made only eight of them en route to scoring just 93 points. It was a maddening, sloppy game full of what-ifs. So…what if the Warriors had sunk threes at their normal accuracy rate? They would have won 111-95.”
Instead, the Warriors were defeated by LeBron James and the Cavaliers 95-93 (though they went on to win the series 4-2). It was the same thing that happened to them in Game 1 of the NBA Finals last night against the Boston Celtics. Except for last night the Warriors hoisted 45 3-pointers instead of 35 and made 19 of them, a make rate of 42.2%.
That percentage is actually well above the league average this season of 35.6% and a team making triples at that rate would typically win. The problem for the Warriors in Game 1 was that the Celtics took 41 3-pointers of their own — and made 21 of them (51.2%).
Boston’s absurd shooting numbers from downtown were boosted by Al Horford (6-8), Derrick White (5-8) and Marcus Smart (4-7), a trio of players who aren’t known for their 3-point prowess. Case in point: In Boston’s Game 7 closeout win over Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals, Horford, White and Smart combined to shoot 6-19 (31.5%) from 3-point land.
Had Horford, White and Smart shot the same way in Game 1 against the Warriors that they did in Game 7 against the Heat, the Celtics would have lost. Instead, they shot the lights out and helped contribute to the most lopsided fourth quarter in NBA Finals history (the Celtics outscored the Warriors 40-16 in the final 12 minutes) en route to a 120-108 victory over Golden State on Thursday night.
If Horford, White, Smart (15-23 overall from deep) and the rest of the Celtics keep shooting like that, they’re a slam-dunk to win the series. History says that they won’t as there’s only been one team to shoot above 40% (Indiana Pacers, 42.2%), let alone 50%, in the history of the Finals. Speaking after the game, Golden State forward Draymond Green hinted at as much.
“They stayed within striking distance and made shots late. We’ll be fine,” Green said. “We’ll figure out the ways we can stop them from getting those 3s and take them away. We pretty much dominated the game for the first 41, 42 minutes. We’ll be fine. Those guys are good shooters, but they combined for 15 out of 23. Fifteen for 23 from those guys? We’ll be fine.”
He’s right — if the Warriors make their 3s. If they don’t and the Celtics do, the NBA’s Final 3-Point Contest is over.
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