LOS ANGELES -- Channing Frye, feet askew and body out of position, let a 3-pointer fly on Sunday, and just like what happened four other times for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ big man against the Los Angeles Clippers, the ball found the bottom of the net.
All Frye could do was smile and shrug his shoulders in disbelief -- shades of Michael Jordan in the 1992 NBA Finals -- as he surprised even himself with his sharpshooting.
Frye’s 5-for-7 showing from deep reflected his team’s day as the Cavs tied a season high with 18 3-pointers in their 114-90 dismantling of the Clippers.
Seeing the Cavs cast away from outside like they did on Sunday, putting up 37 attempts and connecting on 48.6 percent of them, makes one wonder: How much is too much from the great beyond for the Cavs?
“We have a thing now where it’s like, if you have any air space and that shot’s there, we’re taking it,” said Kevin Love. “So I don’t know what’s too much. But when that shot’s there, you have to take it.”
The 3-point shot has always been tantalizing because it rewards you for a bucket with an extra point, but it can also be the low-hanging fruit. If you can get to the rim, it might only be worth two points, but there’s a much better chance you’ll make the shot. And outside shooting is an unpredictable practice, controlled by a player’s confidence far more than shots around the rim are.
TNT analyst Charles Barkley last season famously said, “I don’t like jump-shooting teams. I don’t think you can win the championship beating good teams shooting jumpers.” He said that while being critical of the Golden State Warriors. The same Warriors team that, of course, went on to win the championship over Cleveland, thanks to one of the greatest shooting backcourts in league history with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Cleveland has quietly adopted the Golden State approach. The Cavs came into Sunday averaging a franchise-best 10.2 3s per game, good for fifth in the league.
Out of their top 10 rotation players, eight of them regularly launch the long ball, with Frye, Love, J.R. Smith, Kyrie Irving, Richard Jefferson, Matthew Dellavedova and even LeBron James and Iman Shumpert being comfortable out there (even if James’ and Shumpert’s 3-point percentages don’t reflect that ease).
“Well, the style of basketball we play, with LeBron and Kyrie pretty much making all the plays for us, guys are going to get open shots and open 3s,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. “You got to be able to make them.
"That’s the way we’re going to play, that’s the way we’ve been playing and guys need to step up and make shots.”
Cavs reserve Jordan McRae was going over the box score from the Clippers game and broke out an Oprah Winfrey impression as he gestured around the locker room: “You get a 3! You get a 3! You get a 3!”
On days when shots are falling, it can seem that easy.
“I think we had great rhythm,” said James, who went 3-for-4 from deep, despite suffering through what has been the worst 3-point shooting season of his career (28.5 percent). “You seen the ball popping; we didn’t really have many pull-up transition 3s. I think a lot of them came out of the flow of our offense.”
The win over the Clippers improved Cleveland’s record to 5-3 against the top four teams in the West (Golden State, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and this Los Angeles squad). Cleveland shot 62-for-140 from 3 in the wins (44.3 percent) and 22-for-75 from 3 in the losses (29.3 percent). Live by the 3, die by the 3, indeed.
Put it all together and it’s worth asking: Should the Cavs be considered a jump-shooting team, as well?
“No, we’re a basketball team,” said Cavs reserve James Jones, a 3-point specialist himself. “I think we’re a complete basketball team. I think teams -- you look around the league, in general, teams don’t want you scoring in the paint, so they pack the paint and try to keep you on the perimeter because that’s where the lower percentages are.
"So we’re a team that’s capable of making shots, but we’re not a jump-shooting team, because at the end of the day, we draw very few of our plays up to get a jump shot. Most of them are drawn with the intent of us giving a guy an opportunity to get two feet in the paint and attack the rim.”
Still, Irving calls the 3-ball an “important” facet of the Cavs’ identity, if not their defining characteristic.
“We’re not thinking about it anymore, who’s getting the shot or anything like that,” Irving said. “We’re not just a one-sided team anymore. We’re driving closeouts, we’re getting the ball to the weak side, we’re going second-side pick-and-roll, we’re getting to secondary actions that will be really, really important for us going forward.”
Can the Cavs’ jump-shooting style be enough to unseat the Warriors’ wet-from-beyond-the-arc weaponry in a Finals rematch? It’s a question that can only be answered with a shrug for now.