2017 NBA Playoffs
2017 NBA Playoffs

Cleveland Cavaliers shoot their way into third straight conference finals

With LeBron surrounded by efficient 3-point shooters, Cavaliers' offense too potent for Raptors to contain

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann NBA.com


May 7, 2017 10:23 PM ET

LeBron James (left) got a helping hand from shooters like Kyle Korver throughout the Eastern Conference semis.

TORONTO -- There are a lot of different skills that make a basketball player valuable or a team successful. But the most important of them, by a wide margin, is the ability to put the ball in the basket.

If you can't shoot, you had better do everything else really well. And if you can shoot, you can make up for being subpar in other areas.

The Cleveland Cavaliers can shoot. And after a 109-102 victory on Sunday, they're moving on to the conference finals having outscored the Toronto Raptors by 102 points (183-81) from 3-point range, a mark that's tied for the biggest 3-point differential in a four-game sweep in the last 20 years.

There are 53 active players that have at least 700 career 3-pointers and have shot at least 35 percent from beyond the arc. The Cavs have eight of the 53.


At any point, they can put four of them on the floor around the best player in the world. And when that best player in the world is shooting 47 percent from 3-point range himself?

"Then," Kyle Korver said, "it's problems."

"You've got to score 117, 118 points a night to beat them."

Raptors coach Dwane Casey, on the Cavs' potent offense

Problems for anybody trying to figure out how to defend this team.

Kyle Korver was part of the Cavaliers' 3-point machine, making four 3s in the first half.

"They're very difficult to beat when [LeBron James] is shooting the ball like that because the floor is so spread," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after his team, a top-10 defense in the regular season, allowed the Cavs to score 118 points per 100 possessions in the series. "It really takes you away [from the basket]. And then they bring in [Channing] Frye and Korver, they've got the floor spread so much. And now here goes Kyrie [Irving]. They present so many problems offensively. You've got to score 117, 118 points a night to beat them, because they have so many weapons."

The Raptors played their best game of the series on Sunday. P.J. Tucker started his first game of the postseason and was in James' shirt all afternoon. The Raptors moved the ball well on offense and made some of the open jumpers they had been missing in the first three games.

With so many shooters around, LeBron James makes his 35 points look easy.

But it wasn't enough. Despite Tucker's defense -- he was, essentially, on the floor and in front of James for 46 minutes -- James scored 35 points on 11-for-22 shooting, hitting five of his 12 threes. And every time the Raptors made a run, the Cavs had an answer -- often from beyond the arc.

When the Raptors got off to a strong start, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue called on Frye a little earlier than usual, and a couple of Frye jumpers helped Cleveland turn an 11-point, first-quarter deficit into a tie game heading into the second quarter.

Then it was Korver's turn. He was the key ingredient -- with a couple of jumpers and an assist to James when two defenders went toward the shooter -- in a 15-4 Cleveland run in the middle of the second quarter.

When the Raptors fought back to take the lead midway through the fourth quarter, Irving went on a personal, 11-2 run that gave the Cavs the lead for good. It started with his patented, step-back three from the right wing.

The dagger was another step-back from James, his fifth three of the game. Stay at home on the shooters and the ball-handlers will just create their own space.

Toronto, meanwhile, just didn't have enough shooting to compete. In the series, 84 percent of the Raptors' 3-point attempts were uncontested. But they shot just 32 percent on those uncontested 3-pointers. Only 69 percent of the Cavs' 3-pointers were uncontested, but they shot 46 percent on those uncontested 3-pointers and even better (48 percent) on contested looks from beyond the arc.

In the wake of being swept in the Eastern Conference semifinals, what's next for Toronto?

When Casey was asked before Game 4 what his team was missing with the absence of point guard Kyle Lowry, the first thing he mentioned was Lowry's 3-point shooting. The All-Star was one of the best 3-point shooters off the dribble this season and though Cory Joseph is one of the league's back-up point guards, he isn't the long-distance shooter that Lowry is. The Raptors don't have many weapons from deep, and when you take away the most dangerous one, it's problems.

It's all about shooting. If you have it, you can make up for inconsistent defense or erratic play from quarter to quarter. Exhibit A is your Cleveland Cavaliers. The focus comes and goes. The defense can be beat. But the Cavs are now 8-0 in this postseason and 32-4 in the Eastern Conference playoffs over the last three years.

You may have thought that the Cavs, who shot 41 percent from 3-point range in the 2016 postseason, had enough shooting. But GM David Griffin wasn't satisfied, so he traded for one of the best shooters in NBA history in January, and it's been a mutually beneficial relationship.

"Nothing helps you get open more than more shooting," said Korver, who shot 8-for-12 from beyond the arc in Games 3 and 4. "When you're the only shooter, they can lock in on that. But when you got multiple shooters, it makes it really hard to guard. We have that here and we were designed like that for a reason."

You're seeing it now. History tells us that defense is more important than offense if you want to win a championship. But this is a new NBA, where you can't win if you can't keep up offensively. Just ask the Raptors, who also had a top-10 offense in the regular season, but couldn't hang with the combination of James and a group that complements him perfectly.

"We have a lot of guys who were brought to this team," Korver said, "to help make our main guys even better, hopefully, to give them the space they need to operate, to be special."

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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