"We wanted to beat this team so badly," Hawks forward Paul Millsap said. "We thought we had them figured out -- and then they go and do something completely different. That's what's so frustrating about it."
The Hawks found themselves in a similar situation as the Detroit Pistons when going up against the Cavs. In the Hawks' case, they were swept in their second-round playoff series and completely overwhelmed and caught off guard by what the Cavs threw at them: a record number of 3s.
The Pistons actually baited Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving into shooting 3-pointers, handing him the space to do it. The Hawks double-teamed Irving and forward LeBron James because they preferred letting big men Kevin Love and Channing Frye take open 3-pointers, not believing that could beat team.
"We tried to take away significant parts of their team and significant parts of their offense," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "Our players executed everything we asked."
"We just kept saying they have to start missing," Millsap said. "They didn't."
Here's some perspective on what went down in this East semifinal series, via ESPN Stats & Information:
The Cavs shot better from the 3-point line in the series (51 percent) than on shots from 3 feet and closer (48 percent).
Love, Frye and J.R. Smith all had games in the Hawks series in which they made at least six 3s. It's the first time in history a team has had three players do that in a series.
The Cavs are the first team in history to make at least 15 3-pointers in four straight games, regular season or playoffs. Not even the groundbreaking Warriors have done anything like that.
In the four-game series, the Cavs made 77 3-pointers. The most they'd made in any four-game stretch this season was 61. The most the Warriors made in a four-game stretch was 68.
The Cavs hit 77 3-pointers and 81 2-pointers in the series. No team is history has made more 3s than 2s in a series, but before this the closest was 25 more 2s than 3s.
Six Cavs shot 48 percent or better from 3-point range (James settled for 42 percent) and seven players made at least four.
That's a long way of saying this was a tidal wave of unexpected volume, diversity and intensity.
So was this a moment in time, or can something like this be sustained? The Cavs' stars sort of dodged the question.
"At the end of the day, our shooting is coming from our ball movement," James said. "Myself and Kyrie are getting downhill, and we're attracting a second [defender], a third guy at times. Our shooters are locked in and ready. It's up to us to get the ball right there in the shooting pocket and they're good to go."
"Kyrie and LeBron are so devastating and draw so much attention," Love said. "They do it in different ways, but in doing that Channing is going to be open, J.R. is going to be open, I'm going to be open. There's so many weapons we have on the perimeter."
During the regular season, the Cavs were third in 3-point attempts, second in makes and third in percentage. So this has been a big part of their game. But nothing like this.
It seems that this would have to reach a critical mass, or that changes in strategy by upcoming opponents would limit Cleveland's long-range assault. But then, with this kind of success, there's little incentive to be conservative. The more the Cavs shoot, the better they play. It's a problem the Hawks, who were the league's best defensive team over the second half of the season, couldn't solve.
"They really put our defense in a tough spot," Millsap said. "I mean, Love threw up some air balls but just kept shooting. When they have confidence like that, it's hard to stop them."