Kyle Korver unable to shake free from Warriors' clutches

NBA.com Global on Jun 08, 2018 02:27 PM
Kyle Korver unable to shake free from Warriors' clutches
Cleveland Cavaliers' Kyle Korver shoots during an NBA basketball practice, Wednesday, May 30, 2018, in Oakland, Calif. The Cavaliers face the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday in Oakland. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

CLEVELAND – The four-point shot is coming to the NBA, Cleveland sharpshooter Kyle Korver believes, as inevitable in the league’s inflationary, evolutionary march as stretch five's and 7'10" wingspans.

Consider: Of the 57 three-point attempts in Game 3 of the Finals Wednesday night (Thursday, PHL time) at Quicken Loans Arena, 32 of them – 56 percent – were hoisted from at least 26 feet out. That’s more than two feet beyond what’s required at any point around the arc. Eleven of those came from 30 feet or farther, with Kevin Durant (four) and Steph Curry (one) combining to make five, for 45.4 percent.

“A lot of guys can shoot two, three, four, five, six, seven, 10 feet behind the three-point line,” said Korver, one of the most accomplished marksmen in NBA history. “A lot of people can do it. It’s just when is it going to be considered a good shot? When are coaches going to encourage you to shoot that shot?

“It’s just going to keep going. The NBA, we’re going to keep trying to make this more exciting. In 10 years, there’s going to be a four-point line. For sure, right?”

Could be, if long distance scoring is determined to be a driver of ratings and revenue.

For now, though, Korver is interested in navigating three-pointers and two-pointers in the ways in which he, and we, have been accustomed.

A 43.1 percent shooter from distance in his NBA career, Korver has hit 2,213 threes in the regular season over 15 seasons (fourth all-time) and another 237 in the playoffs. But he has made only one of his six three-point attempts in the 2018 Finals so far and is shooting 1-of-10 overall.

Very un-Korver-like.

In fact, the 37-year-old Cavaliers wing admitted that the 32-footer he launched early in the second quarter of Game 3 was his attempt to shoot one beyond the reach of Golden State’s clingy defense. The Warriors began this championship series determined not to let Korver – a proven threat for big plays and momentum swings – do major damage, and so far they have excelled.

“It’s been a high priority, taking Korver out of the series,” said Draymond Green, the versatile head of Golden State’s defensive snake. “We know, when he gets going, it’s really big for them. They feed off his three's, Kyle feeds off his threes. Coming in we knew, to take him out would be very important. Especially because they need them 12-to-15 points he can possibly bring.”

Korver’s two three-point attempts Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time) were uncontested, in this case bullets dodged by the defense.

“He missed ‘em both, thank God,” Green said. “But I think that’s also a direct impact of the force that he’s felt throughout this entire series.

“All of a sudden, you’re not in rhythm and those shots you’re normally gonna make, they don’t feel as good.”

Korver doesn’t feel very good, period, based on his struggles over the past week. Here’s a breakdown, series by series, of his 2018 postseason:

KORVER'S 2018 PLAYOFFS

Round | Opponent | PPG | Minutes | 3-FGs

First round | Indiana | 8.3 | 23.0 | 16-of-40

East semifinals | Toronto | 14.5 | 31.5 mpg | 14-of-25

East finals | Boston | 8.6 | 21.8 | 14-of-33

Finals | Golden State | 1.3 | 14.7 | 1-of-6

“They’ve done a good job of switching on the wide pindowns on Kyle and denying him the ball,” Cleveland teammate Tristan Thompson said, “because they know if Kyle gets going we’re a totally different team and it opens up the court for us.

“We’ve got to find ways to get him open. Whether it’s setting multiple picks or just getting him moving, we’ve got to find ways to make his job easier. If they are switching, we’ve got to score on the block to make them second-guess. Do they really want to switch out on Kyle or take their chances with the threes?”

The urgency in any Finals game means a shooter such as Korver doesn’t have the luxury to stay on the court through four or five misses, confident he’ll eventually warm up. Coach Tyronn Lue is like any of his peers, quick to shuffle his deck for answers as time slips off the clock.

“You know you’ve got to play at a high level as a group,” Korver said after the Cavaliers’ workout Thursday (Friday, PHL time). “You can’t make it about you. You have to buy into what the team is doing and get lost in that process. When you make it about yourself, that’s when you can start to press a little bit.”

Korver learned long ago that attentive defenders are manageable, as long as his team is successful.

“If the team is scoring and I’m on the court, that’s as good as me scoring,” he said. “A big part of my role here has been, ‘I’m in the spot where they don’t want to help from, so our guys can do what they want to do.’”

Being a decoy is one thing. Being shut down is quite another, if the team needs your production.

A year ago, Korver averaged a mere 4.4 points in the Finals, making only 3-of-12 3-pointers as the Warriors grabbed 3-0 control. After the Cavaliers got bounced, the summer was rough.

“Offseasons hurt when you lose the last game,” he told NBA.com last month.

Korver and his teammates are staring into that abyss again, one game shy of toppling. The trick now is to play Game 4 as if they aren’t, to play more like they did in the first three rounds. Some of the problems are due to Golden State’s superior defensive schemes and execution. Some, though, are on the Cavs, Korver included.

“We haven’t been running around quite as much,” he said. “I’m not setting as many screens. I’m not complaining about this at all. [But] I’m not darting around quite as much as I’d been in previous series. It’s because they’re switching [assignments]. It’s about us winning, so we’re trying to attack certain things.”

Cleveland, in other words, hasn’t made Korver the priority that Golden State has.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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