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When bad shooting games follow great ones

6/10/2010

Ray Allen was really hot, and then he was ice cold.

Matt Moore, writing for Pro Basketball talk has found something that's in keeping with others who have been on fire in the Finals.

Kenny Smith, Scottie Pippen and Allen are the three people to have made seven or more 3-pointers in an NBA Finals game, and Allen has done it twice. The first time Allen did it, it was in the last game of the season. But in the three cases when there was a next game to play, none of those shooters had good nights. Allen missed all eight of his 3s in Game 3, which is in keeping with what happened to Smith and Pippen after their big shooting games. Moore writes that "Smith went on to shoot a combined one for nine through the final three games of the Rockets' sweep. Pippen went on to shoot two of 11 in the remainder of the Bulls' six games."

Three possible explanations:

  • Random chance.

  • Opposing defenses determined not to be beat the same way again.

  • Players thinking they're hot and taking difficult shots.

Or all of the above. There is always randomness in shooting -- the best in the world make only about half of their 3-pointers, so no one keeps the misses away for long. Doc Rivers says he thinks Allen may have showed some overly aggressive shot selection early in Game 3, and the defense was certainly a factor, as Kevin Arnovitz has shown nicely on video.

Kenny Smith (in the course of, no joke, promoting two-dollar bills) remembers how it is that he came to follow up his memorable Game 1 with something forgettable. "I couldn't get in the game!" Smith was splitting time with then-youngster Sam Cassell, and once Cassell got rolling in Game 2, Smith was something of an afterthought.

And as for Allen, Smith says that he thought the Celtic guard "became very conscious of the defenders. He had been unconscious. But they invaded his space, he passed up a couple of shots, and then he was playing Double Dutch, trying to jump back into the game."

Does Smith believe in the hot hand? "If you're a shooter, there's no such thing. If you're alone in the gym, hitting seven, eight or nine 3s in a row feels normal. But in a game, after the fifth or sixth, the crowd becomes more aware. Then your shot selection can expand. I don't know if it's a zone, but it's a focus. You get so focused, and you really feel like you can shoot it from anywhere."

Can that become a bad thing, encouraging you to take shots you shouldn't?

"It's never bad," says Smith, " when it's going in."