The anatomy of a 3-point record


AT&T CENTER—For the second time in nearly as many weeks the San Antonio Spurs set a franchise record for most 3-pointers in a game, connecting on 20-of-30 attempts in a 129-91 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.

Given the impressive 40-year history of the franchise and the sheer volume of shots made, 20 3-pointers would seem to provoke awe unless you a.) consider the history of the 3-point shot in the NBA, or b.) talk to the Spurs about it.

“We were fortunate, it was one of those nights when your opponent has a bad night and you have a great night,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said. “That’s an aberration and when that happens you are probably going to be in good shape and we were fortunate in that.”

Following the cue from their head coach, none of the Spurs seemed particularly impressed by their 3-point barrage. Asked about it after the game, point guard Tony Parker shrugged.

“That’s what we do,” Parker said.

While 20 3-pointers certainly qualify as an outlier, it’s a product of the ball movement and spacing the Spurs have incorporated in an offense that features the 3-point shot as such a potent weapon. And that process is something the Spurs can produce with regularity, even if the result varies.

A perfect San Antonio Spurs possession begins with Parker collapsing the defense, followed by defenses breaking into frantic rotations chasing ghosts while a bevy of shooters fling the ball around the perimeter seeking the best open shot.

Against the Mavericks, the Spurs moved the ball from side-to-side, worked in some high-low, and kicked the ball out again; leaving the Dallas defense reeling from all directions.

“We took a plain old-fashioned butt-whooping in every which way you can think about,” Mavericks forward Shawn Marion said. “And then they broke a record.”

The NBA record for most 3-pointers in a game by a team is 23, set by the Orlando Magic in 2009. It’s a mark that would be difficult to break, given that approaching such a high volume of 3-pointers would generally mean a blowout, assuming that team is playing any shred of defense.

But the role of the three-pointer is evolving. Just as spread offenses changed the face of football, the 3-pointer has become the great equalizer in the NBA.

At the height of the George Gervin-led Spurs offensive powers the 1983-84 team took a total of 263 3-pointers all season. By comparison, today’s Spurs have made 237 of 634 3s attempted merely a third of the way into this season.

Asked if the 3-pointer has become the prominent shot in the NBA, Spurs center Tim Duncan agreed.

“The last couple of years it’s really taken a jump. We saw teams go smaller, teams play faster, playing four shooters,” Duncan said. “The whole game’s changed and we’ve just kind of evolved with it.”

It’s not an uncommon sight to see the Spurs surround Duncan or Tiago Splitter with four quality shooters, each adding their own unique flair to the 3-point shot.

The Streak Shooter

Spurs guard Danny Green hitting his first shot of the evening—a corner 3—was a bad omen for the Dallas Mavericks. Green has been slightly feast or famine this season, connecting on 43 percent of his 3-pointers in wins and only 29% in losses.

When he gets going the Spurs rarely lose. Never shy to pull the trigger, the Spurs now seek more consistency from their young shooting guard.

“He is still working to be consistent, but we are still going to trust him,” Parker said. “We are still going to get him the ball. Tonight was great, he shot the ball with a lot of confidence.”

Maintaining the same shot mechanics through every shot has been Green’s aim in San Antonio.

“Before I got here my shot would look different every time,” Green admitted. “Sometimes I wouldn’t hold my follow through, sometimes I would. The key for me is to stay locked in and shoot the ball the same way every time.”

The Showman

Teammate Stephen Jackson has no such problem. Every shot follows the same slow windup and delivery. Jackson’s shot is slow, deliberate, and utterly unblockable.

His size and high release make the shot virtually untouchable and his deliberate release actually serves as a weapon of sorts. Never in a hurry, should Jackson find a closeout defender in too much of one he can recall his attempt at any point until its release, gaining  the extra step on a defender towards the rim that time has otherwise taken away.

No Spurs player illicits more energy from the crowd in a 3-point attempt than Jackson. This is due to equal parts track record, raw emotion, and the fact that the lack of speed in his shot allows for anticipation to build before it settles softly into the net.

The Gunner

Against Dallas, Gary Neal turned two fast break opportunities into pull-up jumpers in transition. They’re shots Spurs fans are not accustomed to seeing but should come to accept given the number of fourth quarter sparks Neal has ignited.

Neal represents some of the early offense strikes the Spurs have lifted from the Seven Seconds or Less Suns, attacking an offense with a highly efficient shot by launching before either offense or defense can truly be set.

The Stretch Fours

Perhaps the earliest championship team built around the premise of the 3-pointer is Hakeem Olajuwon’s Houston Rockets featuring Robert Horry.

When Matt Bonner or Boris Diaw are catching and shooting without hesitation the Spurs offense reaches new heights of production. Against Dallas, Diaw was decisive; quick to pass or shoot without holding the ball or delivering a number of fakes in a way that generally bogs down the offense.

Just a few years ago analysts derided a Magic Finalist team for being far too dependent on 3-pointers while applauding the number of midrange jumpers Finals opponent Kobe Bryant generated.

Today elite teams are built around surrounding elite talents with elite shooters. Not every night can be a record-breaking night for the Spurs, but in the grander scheme of things you can trust they’ll live by the three far more often than not.

  • Ryan McShane

    Orlando made 23 three-pointers in one game in 2009:

    Also, Phoenix made 22 three-pointers a year and a half later:

  • Leben

    Good catch, I was just about to bring that up too.

  • Andrew A. McNeill

    Thanks for the heads up, guys. I fixed it in the post. Apologies for the mistake.

  • neverthehero

    they did get the record for percentage for 20 or more made!

  • Ryan McShane

    I’m guessing he used the NBA Encyclopedia page. No apologies necessary.

  • Bob

    Live by the 3, die by the 3. However the Rockets had a dominant presence inside that created their 3 point opportunities on the perimeter. Drive and kick by Parker is much easier to shutdown by better athletes as we’ve see the past few playoffs.

    It’s about how your 3’s are generated. Will that still work in the playoffs when the defenses close out faster? A post presence makes it harder for the defense to recover and puts more pressure on them than just chasing guys around the perimeter.

    To put it simply drive and kick isn’t enough to win a championship.

  • Tyler

    Maybe not 10 years ago, but it seems to be enough the past few years. Just last year the NBA Finals featured two teams that didn’t have much of an inside scoring presence.

    Like everything else, style of play in the NBA is cyclical. In the 90’s and early 00’s it was all about big men and bruising defense. Now it’s about uptempo and guard play in the PnR.

    As it pertains to the Spurs, I think if they are healthy, catch a couple breaks and the role players knock down shots, SA has a decent chance to win a ring – 1 in 5 maybe?

  • Bob

    That’s not accurate. What was the biggest change in Lebron’s game last year? He started scoring inside more and that is what helped him win it all. KD needs to do the same. Let’s look at some of the past champions. Dirk has a mid post game. Gasol is one of the best in the post. If anything that proves how essential a post game is. It gives you much easier baskets or double teams.