LeBron James found the sidekick he needs in Cavs vs. Pacers Game 2: Kyle Korver
How the sharpshooter affected the game against the Pacers with his -- gasp! -- defense
The Cleveland Cavaliers eked past the Indiana Pacers, 100-97, to even their first-round series on Wednesday, but you're going to hear a lot about how LeBron James did this in spite of getting little help from his teammates.
James, indeed, was heroic: 46 points (including Cleveland's first 16 points of the game), 12 rebounds, five assists in 40 minutes while shooting 17-for-24. And while it is true that Kevin Love was underwhelming offensively and still managed to be the Cavs' second-leading scorer (15 points on 5-for-16 shooting), the idea that James' teammates didn't show up is not quite true: Kyle Korver showed up in a massive way.
Korver, who turned 37 a month ago, has beennot named LeBron this season. The 15-year veteran remains one of the league's deadliest snipers, and his presence helps the Cavs even when he is nowhere near the ball. In the series opener, he came off the bench and played only four minutes, as he was still dealing with a sore right foot and an illness. Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue always wanted to start Korver in the playoffs, and he told Korver at a recent practice that this was still the plan. Korver said he would be ready, and he was.
In Game 2, Korver had 12 points and shot 4-for-8 -- all from 3-point range -- but his other contributions were even more important. In a game that went down to the wire, he made several heady plays that served as difference-makers.
"He opened the floor up, but more so than anything I thought defensively he had a few good rotations," Lue told reporters. "He did a great job on Thad [Young] when we were in full rotation, taking the bigger guys, boxing out. He does all the little things it takes to win. And when you want to win a championship, you gotta do all the little things."
Lue said that Korver set the tone for the Cavs by making extra efforts on defense. No play exemplifies this more than one that took place late in the second quarter. After missing a corner 3, Korver sprinted down the court as if his life depended on it, all for the privilege of having Pacers guard Lance Stephenson charge into him at full speed. This is not only Korver sacrificing his body for the good of the team, but precisely the kind of play that Cleveland was criticized for not making consistently throughout the regular season. It also saved the team from surrendering a wide-open 3-pointer:
Midway through the third quarter, Korver made another significant play in transition. With lightning-fast Indiana star Victor Oladipo pushing the ball, Korver came out of nowhere to get his hand on a pass to Darren Collison. He then dove to the floor to recover the loose ball, allowing the Cavs to call a timeout. The Pacers had scored the last six points of the game, but the Korver-forced turnover put a stop to their momentum:
Korver's most timely play, however, came in crunch time. With about 90 seconds left in the game and Cleveland leading by six points, the swingman switched a pick-and-roll and found himself matched up with Indiana's Myles Turner. The center immediately went to the block, hoping to exploit the mismatch, and sure enough, a pass came his way. Turner tried to go to work, but Korver refused to give up any ground, forcing him into an attempted stepback jumper that he couldn't even get off. As soon as Turner exposed the ball, Korver swiped downwards and forced a turnover:
These are not the type of plays that Korver is known for. He will go down in history as one of the best shooters of all-time, not an all-around glue guy. They are, however, a perfect representation of whyKorver was never particularly fast -- and he is slower now than he was just a few years ago -- but he does his best to make up for it with guile, timing and pure effort.
James' otherworldly performance was obviously the big thing driving the the Cavs as they avoided a 2-0 deficit, but, as Lue said, the little things matter, too.
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