I watched Game 5 of the 1984 NBA Finals on TV the other night. Some things you take away from that game:
1) Bird was at the height of his powers - my lord was he good.
2) The Lakers relied very heavily on Kareem. He was 7 of 25 for the game, yet they were going to him every time down.
3) Magic, I am sorry to say it Magic, but he didn't do much. If you look at Magic's Game Log for that Finals, in Games 5 and 7 he was 8 of 23. Imagine LeBron James going 8 of 23 in losses in Games 5 and 7. You don't have to imagine, in 2011, LeBron was 20 for 45 in Games 3-4-5 as Miami lost. He was seen as the worst player ever to play basketball. Even if you throw in a good Game 6 for Magic in 1984, he was 18-41 in Games 5-7. Both men were 44%, and I can guarantee you, LeBron was playing far superior defense and not tossing the ball into Kareem in the post every possession.
4) The biggest thing I noticed was how many times guys were jacking up closely guarded two-point shots. Dennis Johnson, seemingly every time down, was shooting a 17 footer while his guy narrowly missed blocking it.
As we know in modern days, the closely guarded long two point shot is a bad shot. That was apparently not the rule in 1984, because anyone (closely guarded or not) was allowed to hoist any 15-20 foot jumper they could find.
Why? No one ever took a 3 point shot. In the 2012-13 playoffs, LeBron James took 96 3 point attempts. In the 1984 playoffs, Larry Bird took 17.
The underuse of the 3 point shot was obvious from watching the game, but the disparity between 1984 and 29 years later is stunning when you consider that Bird's offensive stats and LeBron's offensive stats over their careers are frighteningly similar. But LeBron takes nearly 6 times as many 3s? Is it LeBron and Bird, or is it the game?
It is the game.
From 1979-90 in the playoffs 24 time a guy took 40 or more 3 pointers in a playoff run.
From 1991-2002 -- 172 times
From 2003-Present -- 287 times.
It is difficult to identify exactly when the big change occurred (there are some years in the more modern times where no one took 40+ threes), but I look to the 1994-95 Rockets. They went with the game where they tossed it in to Hakeem and he got the ball out and they just jacked a ton of 3s. I think it was then that the league realized that playing 4 out and 1 in was the best decision. I also think that the growth in statistical analysis in recent years has alerted coaches to the fact that shooting a 21 footer at a rate of 35% is a terrible shot when you can get a 24 footer at 33% that counts 150% of the 21 footer.