Through the first six quarters of Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics, Kyle Korver had scored 28 points on 9-for-9 shooting from the field, six of them 3-pointers, and 4-for-4 at the line.
Yet it was an all-out sprint and subsequent dive onto the Quicken Loans Arena floor late in the third period that had his coach and teammates talking following the Cavaliers’ 111-102 victory Monday, which evened the best-of-seven series at 2-2 heading into Game 5 tonight at TD Garden.
Due to Korver’s hustle, the ball ended up hitting Boston’s Terry Rozier out of bounds, giving the Cavs possession.
“That’s a guy that’s all about winning and whatever it takes to win,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “You very rarely see a 36-year-old running full speed against Marcus Smart, against Rozier, and diving for the loose ball and laying it all on the line.
“Kyle is just a pro’s pro, man. He does everything right. Every night he gives it 100 percent effort.”
As Lue paused while seated at the postgame interview podium, he was told that Korver had turned 37 on March 17.
“He’s 37 now? God dang. We’re playing him too many minutes,” the coach responded, drawing huge laughter from media members. “We need him, though. We need him.”
After going 5-for-5 from the field and making four 3-pointers in a 14-point performance in Game 3, Korver was 4-for-4 from the field — two of them were 3-pointers — and 4-for-4 at the line in a 14-point first-half performance in Game 4.
The 15th-year pro went 0-for-3 from the floor in a scoreless second half, but tied his career playoff high with three blocks, including two swats of shooting guard Jaylen Brown, who led the Celtics with 25 points.
During a break following one of the blocks, 35-year-old teammate Jose Calderon suggested that Korver adopt the finger wag made famous by 7-foot-2 center Dikembe Mutombo. Not exactly a high flyer, the 6-7 Korver quickly decided discretion was the better part of valor.
“Jose said something to me about shaking the finger, but, no,” Korver said with a wry smile. “I mean, (Brown) is a tough matchup for me. He’s a young guy, super athletic. I’m just trying to play him smart and trying to take away his angles, and I was fortunate to get a couple there.”
Told Lue referred to him as a 36-year-old, Korver said, “I wish I was 36, I loved being 36” and went on to say he was “going to be hurting” Tuesday when the Cavs flew to Boston.
The Creighton product, whose back and elbow were already sore in the locker room following Game 4, has battled recurring right foot soreness for much of the season and will likely undergo surgery this summer, but four-time league MVP LeBron James raves about the player former general manager David Griffin acquired from Atlanta on Jan. 7, 2017, for Mike Dunleavy, Mo Williams, cash and a protected first-round pick.
“I’ve loved Kyle ever since we made the trade to get him here,” James said. “I have no idea how Griff was able to pull that off, still to this day. He’s just a true professional.
“There’s not many of us ’03 class guys still around,” James added of Korver, who was taken by the Nets with the 51st pick. “I feel like we’re just cut from a different cloth because we’ve been around for so long. We have this work ethic, and you see him every day putting in the work, putting his mind, his body into it. It’s not about his age. I think it’s just always keeping his body in the right position.”
One of the best-conditioned players in the league, Korver isn’t blessed with amazing athleticism, rarely dunks and almost never scores off the dribble.
Yet the 212-pounder is an underrated and underappreciated defender because he’s almost always in the right spot, rarely makes a mental mistake and does his best to follow the scouting report when forced to guard a quicker player one-on-one.
Despite the two blocks, Brown got the better of Korver on a number of occasions, but James lauded his teammate’s effort.
“How old is Jaylen Brown? Somebody help me,” James said at the interview podium. “Twenty-one? He’s guarding Jaylen Brown, one of the most athletic wings we have in our league. He’s 21 years old. Jaylen can fall on the ground 10 times and probably spring up and just as likely never feel it.
“I don’t want Kyle falling too much like that. I’ve got to keep his body as fresh as possible. But listen, he’s doing whatever it takes to try to help us win, with the blocks, with the strips. Obviously, his shot-making is very key for our team as well, but it’s just the intangibles he’s doing for us defensively that has put him in a position to be on the floor.”
Korver ranks fourth in NBA history with 2,213 3-pointers in the regular season and 15th with 231 in the postseason, but that was overshadowed by his hustle in Game 4.
The play that had everyone talking began with less than a minute to go in the third period, when George Hill tapped a jump ball to James, who had it bounce off him and into the backcourt.
Korver and the much younger — and faster — Rozier, Smart and Marcus Morris were all in hot pursuit.
“I felt Rozier just race past me,” Korver said. “I felt so incredibly old and slow when I dove for that ball, but the heart was in the right spot.”
That’s what his teammates appreciated most of all.
“That’s our mantra: Whatever It Takes,” center Tristan Thompson said. “If we’ve got to dive at loose balls, I think that got us going. He was huge. Kyle left it all on the line.”
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