The Trail Blazers opened their best-of-seven, first-round series against Denver with a road victory in Game 1.
And in that game, they sank 19 of their 40 three-point field goal attempts on the way to a 123-109 win. Much was made of their ball movement and passing in that game, when they had 29 assists and just six turnovers.
However, in the last two games of the series, Portland has had a total of just 35 assists.
Until a last-minute flurry of made threes Thursday night in Game 3, the Blazers had made just 10 of 40 from that range.
Coincidence? Or is it a chicked-or-egg question – do they not get quality threes because they aren’t passing well or often enough? Or are they not getting assists simply because they aren’t making their threes?
“Well,” Coach Terry Stotts said Friday, “I know that we were six for 24 on catch-and-shoot threes, so I would expect us to shoot the ball better on catch-and-shoot threes. So that would put up the assist numbers.
“Obviously, we haven't been a high-assist team over this past season, but we've had a very effective offense so I kind of struggle with the assist numbers, the passing numbers and the offensive rating numbers.
“If you have a good offensive rating, that's the most important thing. So, to be honest, I thought our offense was pretty good last night -- considering how poorly we shot the three, which is obviously a staple for our offense.”
And all indications are that he is correct about that. The website shotquality.com rates the quality of shots a team gets in a game and from that data, uses a formula to figure how many points it should score off those shots.
That site says that the Blazers should have won the game by six points, based on the shot quality of each team. It gave the Blazers a 65 percent chance of winning the game, based on the shots it got. Obviously, though, the Nuggets – not normally a high-volume three-point team -- made more than would usually be expected, given the quality of shots they got.
That could be answered in several ways. Many people will tell you there’s an element of randomness, unpredictability or just plain luck with shots that are far from the basket.
Or, it could be that the pressure of the game had an impact on the teams, causing improvement -- or the opposite. But shooting threes is Portland's bread and butter.
“We've done it for the entire season,” Stotts said.”It's a big component of what we do. We're the No. 2-ranked offense in the league and that was a big component, so we're not going to change.
“Now, as long as we have guys who can make threes taking them that are open, that's what we will do. And I don't think that's going to change.
“There is obviously, I guess, some randomness, but I do think when you look at Dame and CJ and Norman and RoCo and Melo and Anfernee Simons, we've got a lot of good three-point shooters and that's not random.”
And as sample sizes enlarge, percentages tend to smooth out. If so, look for the Trail Blazers to make a lot of threes Saturday afternoon in Game 4.