The Trey’s the Thing

We've all known that we're watching a new era of NBA basketball. Faded are the days of the clothesline fouls. Faded are the days of fights were players adorn Jeff Van Gundy anklets. Faded are the days where post play wasn't just a way to get by ... it was essential. We're in an era of smaller, quicker lineups. It's one of efficiency, meaning fewer mid-range jumpers. However, it appears that this postseason could be the jumping point for this new era.

Cleveland finished their sweep over Atlanta on Sunday. The Cavaliers were the better team, but the question was how much. Games 1, 3, and 4 showed that the Hawks could at least compete with the East's top seed. Game 2, though, gave everyone an example of how far the Hawks had to go, even if it was in an exacerbated fashion. The Cavs set a playoff record by hitting 25 three-point shots. That's right ... 25! In a game where making 12 triples puts a team in a good place, LeBron & Squad poured in double that amount.

That was the ultimate factor in this particular series. It wasn't that Atlanta couldn't hit from outside (they averaged 11.75 each game). It was that Cleveland was absolutely unconscious from behind the arc (add up 15, 25, 21, and 16 for an average of 19.25 per game). And it's not just the water of Lake Erie providing these seemingly magical shooting powers. The postseason is reflecting a turn in the tide. You can look at this two ways.

Sheer Volume — Over the last 20 years (1997-2016 playoff seasons), teams that averaged 10 or more three-point makes a game was pretty uncommon when it came to playoff hoops. As a matter of fact, it took ten years for a team to hit that double-digit average after the Phoenix Suns netted 10.1 triples a game in 1997. The 2007 Golden State Warriors weren't only the team that brought excitement back to the Bay Area. They also put in 11.1 threes a game during a run that included the upset of the Western Conference top-seeded Mavericks.

I would be another six years before Houston would really start to institute their new-age, sabermetric-style of eliminating the mid-range game from their arsenal. That Rockets team made 11.7 threes each time out, returning to the postseason after a previous three-year absence. In 2014, Atlanta kept their playoff streak alive, despite going 38-44 during the regular season. That didn't stop the Hawks from making an imprint on late April by hitting 11.3 of those threes in their seven-game scare against Indiana. The current Golden State roster picked up where the Hawks left off, hitting 11.4 threes last year on that magical ride.

This season, it doesn't appear that a single will be good enough marksmen to hit the double-digit mark. This is going to be a distinction for several squads. After Sunday's action, we know that Atlanta will finish with an average of 10.6 threes made over their run. Portland (11.1), Golden State (11.4), and Cleveland (16.8) are all ahead of the Hawks with games left to play. That doesn't either Oklahoma City (9.0) or San Antonio (8.5), whom are very capable of getting a touch hotter before one takes out the other.

Sheer Impact — Over the 20-season span we're been looking at, three-point prowess hasn't always been a harbinger of postseason success. Between 1997 and 2010, the team that average the most three-point makes made the NBA Finals twice. Two other times, that distinction earned the corresponding team a Conference Finals berth. On five other instances, that particular squad couldn't even make it out of the first round.

Then, in 2011, someone broke through. The Mavericks parlayed their success behind the arc into a Larry O'Brien trophy. Golden State repeated that in 2015, becoming the first team in recent memory to combine such a high three-pointer average with the highest level of achievement. Winning the three-point crown and the NBA title has proven to be a difficult task, but it seems that it might start taking a much bigger reliance on the those type of shots to even be in the mix for a championship.

As with all budding trends, time will tell how much sustainability this will create. The indication right now, though, is that the new NBA has a lot of traction. And that traction is getting phenomenal footing during these playoffs.


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