CLEVELAND, Ohio — Three-pointers have fueled the Cleveland Cavaliers’ potent offense for the last few years. The Cavs set franchise records from beyond the arc, finishing behind the analytics-driven Houston Rockets in both makes and attempts per game during the 2016-17 regular season.
Cleveland then buried a trio of Eastern Conference foes under an avalanche of triples during the postseason.
After overhauling the roster during the summer and slogging through a slow start, it seemed like the Cavs had lost their identity. They found it again Monday night — at the center of a stunning second-half comeback against the New York Knicks.
A solidified bench ignited the rally. The old playing style led to a blazing offense.
Up-tempo attacks. Drive-and-kicks. Play calls designed for 3-pointers. The bombs-away approach returned.
For most of the quarter, LeBron James conducted the offense, flanked by floor-spacing big man Channing Frye, sharpshooters Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith and veteran Dwyane Wade.
That effective five-man lineup is a variation of the team’s core group that often started the second and fourth quarter during last year’s postseason, the same one that forced opponents into a maddening pick-your-poison conundrum.
James, Korver and Frye were the mainstays. The threesome clicks, especially when head coach Tyronn Lue uses actions with Korver and Frye on the same side. In the postseason, the three of them boasted an incredible 128.7 offensive rating in 70 minutes together. In 30 minutes this year, the offensive rating is 149.8.
Wade being in the mix Monday gave the Cavs a high-IQ playmaker that can still create headaches with his cutting and passing. Smith helped space the floor, putting another trusted outside shooter around James.
Size. Length. Athleticism. Versatility. Spacing. Playmaking. Shooting. Off-ball movement. It was too much for the Knicks.
The Cavs scored 43 points on 14-of-26 from the field and 9-of-17 from beyond the arc. They assisted on 10 of the 14 made shots and only committed one turnover.
James repeatedly initiated offense, garnering plenty of attention while at the top of the key or attacking the basket.
When the defense loaded to pester him, James kicked it out for open 3-pointers, assisting on seven of the team’s nine made triples in the quarter. He finished with eight assists in the quarter, four of which ended in Korver makes, as he matched a career-high with 19 points in the fourth quarter, canning 5-of-8 from long range.
In the first three quarters, Korver tallied just two points on 0-of-4 from the field. In the fourth, those early missed shots started to drop and MSG went silent.
“You only throw it to Kyle when he has someone on him,” James said after the game. “When he’s wide open he’ll miss every dag-gone time. If I told him if I see him open I’m going to start running towards him and contest it. He makes shots. That’s what he does to us in practice when we’re chasing him around. That’s why he’s one of the greatest 3-point shooters this league is ever seen. I’m happy to have him on our side.”
Korver’s off-ball movement also created countless defensive breakdowns and his gravity led to Frye’s game tying 3-pointer.
“Just the whole game I thought he was big,” Lue said of Frye. “The second half especially, I thought defensively he was pretty good playing (Enes) Kanter with post-ups but also making big shots, moving the basketball, setting screens, moving his body. I thought he did a really good job making that big 3 to tie it up. It was huge for us.”
Smith overcame a dreadful first three quarters — scoring five points on 1-of-5 shooting — to bury a vital 3-pointer around the four-minute mark. Wade scored six points and grabbed four rebounds, including three on the offensive end in the period.
But just like last season, it was a lineup featuring James, Korver and Frye that spearheaded an offensive eruption and 3-point barrage.
“We found some energy in the fourth quarter,” Korver said. “Really, we just started hitting some shots. I don’t know how many 3’s we made in the first three quarters but it felt like we couldn’t make anything.
“Everyone kind of stepped up there in the fourth and made some shots, got some stops and we just had fun again. It’s been kind of drag-it-out basketball for a while. In the fourth quarter we had a lot of energy.”
The @cavs storm back from 23 points down and win on the road! pic.twitter.com/AmW10avzeq
— NBA (@NBA) November 14, 2017