Let’s be clear: in the NBA, the 2-pointer is not obsolete.
Houston’s record-setting barrage of 3-pointers in its win over San Antonio in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series provided the latest reminder of how the long ball’s value is continuing to skyrocket. There were more 3-pointers made this season than ever before, the fifth straight year that the NBA saw that record get toppled.
Now meet a new trend: More 3s being taken than 2s in a game. And that one isn’t exactly as rare as a unicorn sighting anymore.
“We just take what they give us,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni insisted.
It’s not that simple.
Houston took an NBA playoff record 50 3-point attempts on Monday, compared with 37 tries from 2-point range. Before this season, no NBA team ever had that sort of discrepancy — at least 13 more 3s than 2s — in a game, regular-season or playoffs.
That was then.
It’s happened 10 times this season, the Rockets posting nine of those. Houston is 7-2 in such games; Boston did it once in a win as well.
“This is the game now,” Cleveland’s LeBron James said. “It’s been this way for a while.”
The four teams with the most 3-pointers in the NBA this season — Houston, Cleveland, Boston and Golden State — are all still in these playoffs. And there were more 3s made in the first round than ever before, 846. Back in 2012, in the exact same number of first-round games as what was played this year, teams made a combined 496 3s.
That’s a 71 percent increase, in just five years.
There’s no end in sight, either. When the Cavs got sharpshooter Kyle Korver earlier this season, James — who was part of the last playoff game in which the winning team made no 3-pointers, during Miami’s 2012 title run — gave him this advice: “Shoot the ball every time you get it. Shoot the ball. As soon as it touches your hands, shoot it. We don’t care.”
Clearly, that’s the thinking just about everywhere these days.
“The league is changing,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “Believe me, you’ve got to change or get stuck in the mud. … I think the days of the 24-point quarters, the 25-point quarters are kind of sliding away.”
In the first 37 seasons of the NBA having a 3-point shot, there were 31 instances of teams taking more from behind that arc in a game than from 2-point range.
The oddity isn’t so odd anymore. It’s happened 33 times already this season and counting.
“We won’t hesitate on shooting them,” said D’Antoni, whose Rockets smashed the NBA records with 1,181 made 3s and 3,306 attempts during the regular season. “We won’t miss five in a row and go, ‘You know what, we’re going to turn one down to drive it.’ No. If they’re open, they shoot it. If they’re not, we drive it.”
Sure enough. On Monday, the Rockets scored 126 points, zero coming on field goals from the space between the lane and the 3-point line. They made 40 baskets — 22 were 3-pointers, 13 were dunks or layups, four were shots inside the lane from 6 feet or closer, and the other was a 14-footer from just inside the foul line.
It’s not just Houston that’s 3-happy. It’s everyone. Boston, in its storied history, had one playoff game where they made 16 or more 3s before this season — and the Celtics went into Tuesday with three already in these playoffs.
“Their 3-point shooting is a problem,” Washington coach Scott Brooks said. “They’re one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the league … we have to make sure we are ready to guard the 3-point line.”
Of the 50 highest single-season 3-point attempt totals by teams in NBA history, 19 are from this season. And when D’Antoni was asked Monday if there can be such a thing as too many 3s, his answer came quickly.
“We haven’t got there yet,” D’Antoni said.
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.