For months, Kyle Korver felt a little lost in his new surroundings.
Even though he has been around since January after being traded by Atlanta, he still can’t believe he’s with the Cavaliers, the defending champions and his longtime nemesis.
The team he couldn’t conquer.
“I find myself still saying, `The Cavs’ and not `Us,”‘ Korver said with a laugh after practice last week. “And I think, `Wait, that’s me. I’m a Cav! It’s us! It’s we!’ You spend so much time focusing on trying to beat this team, it is a little trippy. I think I’m past it now. I think I’ve gotten to a good point.”
At last, Korver feels at home in Cleveland.
One of the game’s deadliest outside shooters, the 36-year-old forward has helped the Cavs steamroll through the first two rounds of the playoffs without a loss and into the Eastern Conference finals. They begin Wednesday, with Cleveland facing Washington or Boston in what will be Korver’s 100th career playoff game.
After being closely guarded by Indiana in the first round – and used as a decoy by the Cavs – he averaged just five points in the first six games of the playoffs. But Korver broke out in Games 3 and 4 against Toronto, with the Cavs finding weak spots in the Raptors’ defense.
Korver scored 14 points on 5 of 7 shooting in Game 3 and followed in Game 4 by scoring 16 in the second quarter and finishing with 18 points.
The two-game burst – he went 8 of 12 on 3-pointers – boosted Korver’s confidence and gave future opponents even more to think about, as if scheming for LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love weren’t enough.
With Korver on the floor, defenses face a dilemma: Stay close and not let him shoot or give him space and deal with the consequences.
“It’s a bonus for us because teams are not going to leave him and that’s what allows LeBron and Kevin and Kyrie to play efficient and get to the basket,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “Teams are not going to leave him and we understand that, so even when he’s not shooting the basketball, that’s a weapon that we can use and we understand that. So if they do leave him, he’s going to make them pay. So it’s a weapon for us and we enjoy it.”
Korver has had playoff runs in Atlanta and Chicago ended by James. When he first arrived, the three-time champ told him that his job was simple – catch and shoot. James even studied film to see where Korver most liked to receive passes before he lets loose a shot as pristine as any around.
However, not everything went as planned. Korver’s adjustment lasted longer than he or the Cavs anticipated. A challenging schedule limited his practice and a left foot injury slowed his play.
Now, Korver’s shot and the Cavs are both on target.
“You know sometimes it’s mind boggling just to see that he hasn’t had a shot in six or seven minutes and he gets that one shot and it doesn’t touch the rim,” Lue said. “That’s what happens when you’re a pure shooter and we’re just fortunate to have him on the team. He’s made big shots for us in these playoffs and hopefully he’ll continue to do that for us.”
Beyond his ability to stretch defenses to their breaking points, Korver has brought more knowhow to a veteran team. He’s a tireless worker, obsessive about his habits and unwilling to cut corners. The consummate pro’s pro.
“That’s how I’ve had to be, to make it in the NBA,” he said. “I’m not the most physical gifted person. I have to grind. I have to take care of myself. We brought a lot of guys who have played over 10 years and if you want to last that long, you have to figure out what you need and stick with it every day. It’s what I’ve had to do.”
All that’s left for Korver is to win a ring. And because his days on the floor are dwindling, he’s relishing every pass he catches from James, every practice, every 3-pointer. He’s a free agent at the end of a season that began in Atlanta and could finish with a parade through Cleveland.
“You’re not guaranteed tomorrow,” he said. “How many more games do I possibly get to play with this team? I don’t know, so I definitely savor playing with him and all of these guys. It’s been great.”
And, finally, he knows where he’s at.