SAN ANTONIO — The teams with the best 3-point percentage so far in these playoffs are San Antonio and Miami, so it might seem logical to think that the Spurs and Heat love the long-range game.
It would also be wrong.
“I hate it,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of the 3.
“We are not just a perimeter team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra insisted.
Love it or hate it, the Spurs and Heat know how to use it, anyway. The 3-pointer is getting fired more than ever these days, and there’s some easy correlations to draw between San Antonio and Miami being good from long range and being the last two teams standing on the NBA playoff bracket for the second straight year.
San Antonio — which was the league’s most accurate team from 3-point range during the regular season, the third time in four years that it’s held that distinction — is shooting an NBA-best 40 percent from beyond the arc so far in the playoffs. Miami is right behind the Spurs, shooting 39.7 percent. It seems likely that both teams will be looking to add to those totals Sunday night, when the Spurs host the Heat in Game 2 of the NBA Finals.
“To me it’s not basketball, but you’ve got to use it,” Popovich said Saturday. “If you don’t use it, you’re in big trouble. But you sort of feel like it’s cheating. You know, like two points, that’s what you get when you make a basket. Now you get three, so you’ve got to deal with it. I don’t think there’s anybody who is not dealing with it.”
He’s right. It’s an absolute staple of the NBA game now, more than ever.
Teams shot just under 53,000 3-pointers this season, smashing the NBA yearlong record set last season by nearly 4,000 attempts. It’s becoming nearly as prevalent as the free throw; teams shot 1.09 free throws for every 3-pointer tried this season, as opposed to the 1.62-1 ratio in that department merely a decade ago.
“Pop’s a pretty smart guy,” said Spurs guard Danny Green, who set a record for most 3s made during a Finals series a year ago against the Heat. “Even though he hates it, he knows it’s a thing that you need to be successful in this league.”
So Popovich studied the numbers, as has Spoelstra, as has everyone else in the league.
The corner 3-pointer — like the Ray Allen one that kept San Antonio from winning the title last season — is all the rage in the NBA these days, and it’s a huge part of the game plans drawn up in San Antonio and Miami.
“The analytics, people really study this stuff now, stuff is broken down that I don’t even understand,” said Atlanta’s Kyle Korver, one of the league’s best 3-point shooters. “I think it is practiced more, it is shot more efficiently than it was 10, 20 years ago. It has just become a real weapon. Every team needs it with the way the NBA is going. ... So much of the game is about spacing. And to have good spacing you’ve got to have good shooting.”
The Spurs and Heat have both.
San Antonio was 13 for 25 from 3-point range in Game 1; Miami was 12 for 29. A year ago the teams combined for 298 3-point tries in their seven-game series; at their current pace, they’d fire off 378 if this series also goes the maximum distance.
“I’m sure Pop doesn’t like it, but he understands it. There’s a difference,” Miami forward Shane Battier said. “You don’t have to love everything that you do. There’s a reason why they’re No. 1 in valuing the corner 3 over the last 10 years. Even though he may not like it, he values it.”
The same can be said for the Heat on the value-it front.
In the first two seasons of the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh era in Miami, the Heat shot 17.4 3-pointers per game, shooting just under 36 percent. Over the last two seasons, they’ve shot more and better — 22.1 3’s per game, and a smidge over 38 percent.
Spoelstra, in a word, said “pain” of losing the finals in 2011 forced the change in approach.
“We had to make some adjustments offensively,” Spoelstra said. “We are not just a perimeter team, we just do it often times inverted, where our perimeter players are in the paint and sometimes our bigs are outside. I’ve talked about it ad nauseum. We had to look at our team and personnel in a different lens, and it required change. Otherwise it was going to be pain again."