The Cleveland Cavaliers are struggling from deep, should it scare fans?

CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 18: LeBron James
CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 18: LeBron James /

The Cleveland Cavaliers find themselves in a first round barely edged out the Indiana Pacers in a riveting seven-game series. The heroics of the great LeBron James were able to outweigh the cohesion of a pesky Pacers team.

Common sense tells us we can boil the Cleveland Cavaliers struggles down to a few things: the trade of the former second option of the team, Kyrie Irving, and the poor performance of All-Star Kevin Love, who has been playing with a torn ligament in his off-shooting hand.

A general lack of both experience and talent of the remaining supporting cast; and their collective inability to play solid defense.

Despite their obvious flaws, the Cavs played well enough in the regular season after the All-Star break to give the rest of the league reason to believe they were still the team to beat in the East. Perhaps most shocking development for the Cavs in these playoffs, and the reason why they barely escaped Indiana is their inability to convert from three-point range.

The Cavs shifted towards a more three-point oriented offense since their championship run in 2016, a result of head coach Ty Lue’s general “small-ball” philosophy.

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The Cavs shot a very respectable 37.2% from beyond the arc in the regular season, good for sixth in the NBA. The efficiency is particularly impressive given that the Cavs ranked fourth in the league in three-point attempt rate—the proportion of a team’s field goal attempts that are three-pointers—at 37.9%.

The Cavs ability to convert 12 triples a game often made up for the team’s general deficiencies on defense.

Unfortunately for Cleveland, the well has gone dry so far in the playoffs. The Cavs are shooting just 32.2% from long distance in the postseason, which ranks 15th out of 16 playoff teams.

This inefficiency is compounded by the fact that Cleveland is shooting threes more frequently in the playoffs than it did in the regular season, with 42.5% of its field-goal attempts coming from distance—second in the playoffs behind the trigger-happy Houston Rockets.

The Cavs are making just 10.4 three-pointers a game, well below their season average. The Pacers, who ranked just 25th in the league in three-pointers made in the regular season, made 9.7 per game in the series—above their season average of 9.0.

Based on their regular season averages, the Cavs should have outscored the Pacers by about nine points per game from the three. Instead, the Cavs only outscored the Cavs by about two points per game from distance. This creates a seven-point swing in favor of Indiana—a potential explanation for why the series was tight, and why the Pacers generally looked like the team playing closer to its potential.

Despite the team’s inefficiency from the three-point line, it is hard to see the Cavs deviating from their strategy of shooting a lot from long range going forward.

Just as the three ball has been a weapon of their success, it could be the reason for their downfall.