LeBron James in Game 2:
LeBron James in Game 3:
There difference was clear.
LeBron, whose jumper has degraded since his return to Cleveland, made as many shots outside 10 feet in a three-minute stretch of Game 3 as he had in any other entire playoff game this year. LeBron finished 5-for-9 from outside 10 feet, the first time this postseason he has made most of his attempts from that range and a huge step up from his 1-for-6 performance in Game 2.
When LeBron is hitting from outside, he and his teammates are that much harder to defend. The spacing improves and ball moves better.
But these occurrences have been increasingly rare the last two years.
Here’s LeBron’s effective field-goal percentage each season (regular season and playoffs combined):
Early in LeBron’s career, his jumper was a deficiency. He worked hard to turn it into a weapon, and now he’s back somewhere near where he started.
It’s not just his percentage. LeBron looks less confident in his jumper, and he sometimes passes up open looks – disrupting the offense’s flow. Because he’s so used to launching those attempts, he doesn’t always immediately drive or pass when he gets the ball outside the paint with space. He often hesitates, a tentativeness that leads to turnovers.
LeBron has gotten to the rim more to compensate, and the tradeoff can be positive. Shots in the restricted area are his most efficient. But sometimes, those are unavailable, and the ability to make jumpers becomes crucial.
If he has found a groove now, the Cavs might be onto something.
If he regresses to what appears to be his new mean, the Warriors will have a much easier time clamping down.