OAKLAND — Damian Lillard’s step-back 37-foot 3-pointer on Tuesday night has been the talk of the NBA ever since the Oakland native lifted the Portland Trail Blazers to a 118-115 playoff-series-clinching win over the Oklahoma City Thunder with his improbable shot.
In his postgame interview, Thunder forward Paul George called Lillard’s absurd missive a “bad shot.” It’s not, for Lillard. And it’s not, for Stephen Curry.
When asked about the shot on Wednesday, before the Golden State Warriors’ Game 5 against the Los Angeles Clippers, head coach Steve Kerr smirked. He’d been asked the ‘bad shot’ question before, about his own Stephen Curry. Like Curry, Lillard is a master of the so-called ‘bad shot,’ shots that most mortals hardly attempt, and rarely make.
“It’s a good shot for Damian,” Kerr said. “It’s a good shot for Steph. The game is being redefined as we play it. Stuff that I’m seeing this last year I didn’t think I’d ever see, [like] people playing on the other side of James Harden and asking him to go to the rim. Never seen that.”
Harden and the Rockets put up a staggering 3,718 3-pointers this season, with Harden averaging 13.2 3-point attempts per game.
It’s long since passed into NBA lore that Curry’s ability to hit the 30-foot shot breaks video game physics.
Curry’s plaudits as a 3-point shooter are impressive: At the age of 30, he’s already third on the all-time 3-pointers made list, about two and a half seasons behind players who took 18 and 19 years on the court to do what he’ll likely do in 12.
While many pundits said the Warriors broke the league when they signed DeMarcus Cousins this offseason, Golden State had already gone to work doing just that with the way it played the game at the 3-point line with shooters like Curry and Klay Thompson.
The year before Golden State won its first title in the current run, NBA teams took an average of 1,766 3-point shots per team in the season. The year the Warriors won, in 2014-15, teams attempted 1,838. Average 3-pointers attempted per team grew to 1,975 the next season, then 2,214, and 2,378 last season.
The year Golden State won its first title, the Warriors were fourth in the league with 2,202 3-pointers. The leader that season was the Houston Rockets, who shot 2,642, but no team shot better from beyond the arc, as the Warriors hit 40.1% from downtown.
This season, NBA teams have shot an average of 2,701 3-pointers. This year, Golden State shot 2,791, eighth in the NBA. The game has changed, and players coming up in the midst of the Warriors’ dynasty now want to shoot 3-pointers just like Michael Jordan inspired a generation of slam dunkers.
“The 3-point line and the range that players are showing with their 3-point shooting, it’s changing the way defenses have to think,” Kerr said. “I saw that quote from Paul my first thought was, ‘You’re right.’ Step-back 38-footer, never been a good shot. It was for Damian, and there are a handful of guys.”
One of those guys is Curry. This season, Golden State’s point guard went 18-for-50 from 30 feet to 39 feet from the basket — 36%. Before the All-Star break, he was shooting 45.5% from 30 to 34 feet. His effective field goal percentage from that distance was 68.2%, compared to 63.8% from inside five feet. That means that, effectively, for the first half of this season, Curry’s shots from 30-34 feet were better shots than layups.
By the end of the season, Curry’s percentages had dropped, but only slightly. His seasonlong effective field goal percentage from 30-34 feet was 57.4. From inside five feet, 62.1.
Lillard, who Draymond Green praised roundly after shootaround, had an effective field goal percentage of 52.2% from 30-34 feet this regular season. He only took one shot between 35 and 39 feet, and missed it, but like Curry, he doesn’t have very long odds on those long shots.
This postseason, Lillard is 5-for-5 on shots beyond 30 feet, including 1-for-1 beyond 34.
“Yeah it was a good shot,” said Clippers head coach Doc Rivers. “It went in.”