There’s not much the Atlanta Hawks can say about the record-setting three-pocalypse the Cavs laid on them last night. Sometimes the ball just won’t stop going in the hoop, and all you can do is turn your palms up, shrug, and move on. What should concern the Hawks, and the rest of the remaining playoff teams, isn’t the fact that J.R. Smith was hitting absurd step-backs, but that LeBron James might be finding his stroke.
James went 4-of-6 from deep in last night’s game, and is 6-of-10 from long range through the first two games of the series. Two years ago, that would have been a totally unremarkable stat, but it’s something of a big deal following a regular season in which James was betrayed by his jumper.
For years, the one crack in James’s otherwise adamantium-solid game was his wonky jump shot. Defenses could sag off of him, packing the paint with enough bodies to foil his rim attacks, daring him to hit a few open shots. That strategy went to hell when James went to Miami, where he shot 40 percent from deep in 2012-13, and even wrapped up a championship by hitting a series of clutch jumpers.
But things went awry again this season, and James shot just 30 percent from beyond the arc, the worst mark he’s posted since his rookie season. He followed that up by shooting 4-of-19 from deep in the Cavs’ first-round series against the Pistons, and it looked like his shot was going to stay broken.
Two good shooting games in a row doesn’t mean that James’s jumper is suddenly fixed, but it’s an encouraging sign for any Cavs fans hoping for this team to take another leap forward. The Irving-Smith-James-Love-Thompson lineup was already the most offensively potent in the league this year, and it has continued to rend the flesh off teams in the playoffs.
When James is hitting from outside, the fangs get that much sharper. It allows him to be a pick-and-pop threat when playing the two-man game with Irving; it gives him an answer to defenders who want to give him space in iso situations; it turns him into a viable spot-up threat when Irving or Love are initiating the offense on the other side of the floor. Suddenly there are four guys on the court who can hit threes, and the Cavaliers become a pace-and-space death machine that can turn the Hawks, a team that boasted the second-best defense in the league this year, into wet paper. That should make the remaining playoff teams, both in the East and the West, more than a little scared.