CLEVELAND (AP) — Wearing headphones and sweats, J.R. Smith, the one Cleveland player without any restrictions on where or when he can shoot, finished his pregame warmup by stopping near half-court and launching a shot.
At the time, inside the quickly filling arena, it didn’t seem significant. Later, it became symbolic.
On Wednesday night, Smith and the Cavaliers barely missed.
Cleveland put on the greatest shooting performance in NBA history, draining 25 3-pointers in a 123-98 win over the Atlanta Hawks, who could only watch in amazement as the Cavs rained down long-range shots from every corner of the floor in Game 2.
“That was overwhelming,” Hawks guard Kent Bazemore said.
Choose any adjective and it would apply to the Cavs, who finished 25 of 45 from behind the arc to rewrite the record books. Smith led the way by making seven 3-pointers, including one he dropped balancing on one leg and another where he barely looked at the rim before firing away.
“J.R. is the only one on the team who has the green light,” said LeBron James. “It’s fluorescent.”
The Cavs made 18 3-pointers in the first half, setting the mark for any half and then broke Golden State’s postseason mark of 21 3-pointers when Kyrie Irving knocked one down with 5:06 left. Cleveland tied the record of 23 3-pointers shared by Orlando (2009) and Houston (2013) before reserve Dahnty Jones made No. 24 with 2:24 left and Mo Williams capped a night no one inside Quicken Loans Arena will forget by making No. 25.
James said the Cavs didn’t intend to make history, history just happened.
“I don’t think we searched out threes until we heard on the Jumbotron that we tied the record,” he said. “And then we felt like we came this far so we might as well try and break it.”
With their deep barrage, the Cavs outshot Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors and every other team who has ever taken aim at the rim from outside 22 feet. And while the sheer number of 3s the Cavs is historic, the onslaught might not be that surprising given the way the league has changed as well as Cleveland’s numerous offensive weapons.
The Cavs dropped 20 3-pointers in a first-round win over Detroit and they’ve been among the league’s most rapid-fire teams all season.
James, though, doesn’t consider them outside oriented.
“We’re not a 3-point shooting team,” James said, “and we don’t want to be labeled that.”
However, it’s difficult not to tag the Cavs as rocket launchers these days. They’re averaging 16.2 3-pointers per game so far in the playoffs and they have become more dependent on the deep ball than ever before.
Part of that is because general manager David Griffin has constructed around James a squadron of shooters — the four-time MVP calls them “designated snipers” — who are capable of doing their damage from downtown. The Cavs get so many open looks thanks to James’ ability to drive and draw more than one defender before finding the open man. Whether it’s Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love or Richard Jefferson or Channing Frye, everyone gets a shot.
But none of the Cavs benefits more than Smith, who came to Cleveland with a reputation for being somewhat of a tattooed troublemaker, but has turned into a dependable scorer and defensive specialist.
Beyond his shooting prowess, Smith has locked down Atlanta sharpshooter Kyle Korver in the first two games, limiting him to eight points and one 3-pointer.
James, who has grown close to Smith, laughed when he was asked if he ever wanted to play a game the way his teammate does.
“Yeah,” James said. “It would be cool to take 14, 17, 20 3-pointers in a game. That would be cool.”
Smith’s laid-back demeanor allows him to stay even-keeled when his shot isn’t falling, and that’s not very often. His teammates ride him during practice for some of his awkward, off-balance attempts that somehow go in.
“Guys are always looking at me like, ‘What are you doing? What are you doing?’ This is my shot,” he said. “Regardless of how funny it may look to you, I feel as if I can make it and when I get that opportunity, I’m going to shoot it and I’m going to make it.”
He wasn’t the only one who felt that way Wednesday night.