BOSTON (TNS) — Raise your hand if you could use a Delly trey right about now.
Others have taken his place after popular Australian guard Matthew Dellavedova left Cleveland for Milwaukee after the 2016 NBA championship season. But the Cavaliers' blueprint for success has remained the same.
They are built around 3-point shooting and when they struggle, they lose their identity. They lose their energy on offense and their will to compete on defense.
Sunday was not the first time they were stopped dead in their tracks when their dead-eye shooting failed them. But coming on the heels of a semifinal sweep, it was a spectacular flop nonetheless as the Boston Celtics rolled to a 108-83 victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals at TD Garden.
The Cavs missed all 12 of their first-half shots from beyond the arc, many of them open looks, and made just 4-of-26 from long range. They went 0-for-6 in the first quarter, which included a 17-0 Celtics' run that practically put the game away.
Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver combined to shoot 0-for-8 from long distance in the first half and finished 2-for-12.
The Cavs didn't break through the 3-point ceiling until Korver connected from beyond the arc with 8:47 left in the third quarter, then stunningly George Hill followed with another.
LeBron James was 0-for-5 from long range in a lackluster performance in which he totaled 15 points, seven rebounds, nine assists and seven of the Cavs' 10 turnovers in 36 minutes.
The Cavs are old and slow, but this loss had nothing to do with those unavoidable facts. In reaching three consecutive NBA Finals, the Cavs have ridden their long-range bombers, whether it was Love, Smith or Korver or since-departed Kyrie Irving, Channing Frye or Dellavedova.
Since James returned in the summer of 2014, the Cavs' 3-point totals have been staggering. They made 826 in 2014-15, then followed that with 880, a franchise-record 1,067 (13 per game last season) and 981 this season. Before that, the team high was 656 in 2008-09, when James and the Cavs lost in the conference finals to the Orlando Magic.
"It's tough for us because that's been our identity for a long time — shooting 3s and making 3s," Smith said of the struggles against the Celtics. "It's tough, but we've got to figure out a way to mix it up. We've got to help Bron. We can't just expect him to do everything. As role players, we've got to play our roles."
Although Smith has more defensive responsibility now, the primary roles of Smith and Korver are to hit from long range. Love carries some of that weight, but can score in other ways.
"Threes have been a big part of the way the Cavs have played for a lot of years and kind of get us going," Korver said. "If we had made a few more — who knows — maybe that would've turned it around for us a bit."
The Cavs do everything better when their long-range shots are falling. They snap the ball around the perimeter. They dive for loose balls. They play harder on defense.
"Three-point shots is a part of our DNA," James said Sunday. "It's what makes us the best team we can be.
"Early on we had some wide-open looks that didn't go. In the first quarter, J.R. and Kev, G Hill, they had some great looks, they just didn't go. We're absolutely OK with that. We're going to take those same looks going into Game 2 if the opportunity presents itself."
The Cavs shot .411 from beyond the arc in sweeping the Toronto Raptors. Korver and Smith had a huge hand in that, connecting on 24-of-38 3-point attempts. But as the Pacers extended the Cavs to seven games in the first round, the Cavs made just .322 from long range, with Korver and Smith making 31-of-88.
Compounding the issue is that James is also slipping. Against the Raptors, James shot just .167 from beyond the arc; he's made .263 from long range in the postseason. He's made three or more 3-pointers in two of 12 playoff games.
James' lethargy added to that of his teammates. But the unavoidable fact is that the Cavs rely on their 3-point shooting to give them their fire.
Unless that's ignited, it won't matter that the Celtics don't have Irving. It won't matter that the Celtics are motivated by national disrespect following season-ending injuries to two All-Stars. It won't matter that the Celtics have younger, fresher legs.
If the Cavs don't find their 3-point touch, they will likely lose their mojo, and a fourth consecutive trip to the Finals along with it.