When Game 5 tips off between the Cavaliers and Celtics in Boston, it’ll be a familiar situation for the Cavs. After a season filled with various ups — and as many downs — Cleveland will have to win at least one game at Boston if they want to make it to the Finals.
“They won two games on their home floor,” Ty Lue told the Cleveland media on Thursday. “They’ve been playing well all playoffs, they’re 9-0 on their floor. We understand that, but now we’ve got to come home and take care of our business on our home floor. We’re ready to do that.”
There’s no way around this: it has been a weird season for the Cavaliers. After a midseason malaise seemed to prevent Cleveland from playing any kind of defense, the Cavaliers traded away six players at the trade deadline—including Dwyane Wade and Isaiah Thomas, the latter being the key return acquired in last offseason’s Kyrie Irving trade. During their 82-game schedule, the Cavs alternated between hot and cold streaks that saw them looking like contenders and has-beens, depending on the direction of the wind.
When the postseason came around, the roller coaster ride continued. It took them the whole seven games to get past a plucky Indiana Pacers squad. Cleveland entered the Semifinals as the underdog against a 59-win Toronto Raptors team that looked like they were finally ready to clear the LeBron hurdle, but the Cavs flipped the switch into a contender again (or the Raptors reverted back to their underachieving ways), sweeping the Raptors. As it would befit their M.O. all season, the Cavs went dead in the opening two games against the Celtics in the Conference Finals before winning the next two in convincing fashion to tie the series.
The peaks and valleys have not stopped in Cleveland this year. Despite the drama surrounding the team, the guys who were not dealt at the deadline, veterans Korver, Love, Thompson and J.R. Smith, are the teammates doing their best to ensure the team doesn’t waste a season playing alongside James, a player who is aiming to reach his eighth straight Finals.
While younger players might not grasp the significance of the opportunity, veterans surely do.
“I’m really glad I’m getting this opportunity to be on this team at the end of my career because at the end you don’t take it for granted,” Korver said of playing alongside James during the regular season.
After getting swept multiple times at the hands of James, it is James whose hands now deliver passes for open looks beyond the three-point arc for Korver. At 37 years old, Korver is the eldest player on Cleveland’s roster. So old that head coach Tyronn Lue (who is just four years older) forgot how up in age the longtime sharpshooter actually is.
"We need him though."
— NBA TV (@NBATV) May 22, 2018
Though he started Game 1 in Boston, Korver was taken out of the starting five for Game 2, as Cavaliers coach Ty Lue elected to start Tristan Thompson in his place. The luxury of having a veteran like Korver is never having to worry about his mood after moving him to the bench. Whatever role is asked of him, he is prepared to play it.
“Kyle’s great,” Love said during Cleveland’s series against the Raptors. “He’s a guy that’s consistently a pro, a guy that brings it every single day. You know what you’e going to get from Kyle. He’s a great locker room guy because he’s so positive and he absorbs the game so well. He’s very hungry for the game, even in his 15th season. He continues to get better.”
With Cleveland needing to win two of the next three, a superb effort from James is all but guaranteed. What will likely make the difference will be the assistance he receives from his supporting staff. Love has been solid in the first two games of the series as the only other Cavalier player averaging double figures than James.
“You never know who it’s going to come from [in the playoffs],” he said. “But usually the savvy veteran who has seen it all can give some perspective on a situation whether you’re winning or losing.”
No player on the Cavaliers roster has had his role fluctuate more this season than reserve point guard Jose Calderon. From DNP-CDs, to starting, to being the third-string point guard, Calderon’s ever-changing role is a reflection of the season the Cavaliers have had. Still, he points to Korver as an example of the type of veteran player that helps a team to be successful in the postseason. In part because Korver’s postseason routine is identical to the one he follows for the first 82 games of the regular season.
“He’s one of the guys you always want on your team,” Calderon said. “He’s a great guy, great person, a family guy. You enjoy going dinner with him. It’s nice to talk to him. He’s a hard worker, always working out, getting shots up. When you get older, you start knowing your body more. Veterans know what works and what doesn’t.”
Of the players that came to Cleveland in deadline deals, George Hill is the only one to be in the starting lineup for the Cavs in the postseason since Rodney Hood started Game 1 against the Indiana Pacers in the first round. The others have contributed off the bench, but Jordan Clarkson received a DNP-CD in Game 2, while Larry Nance Jr. and Rodney Hood combined to score two points in 11 minutes apiece. Cleveland’s younger players, some getting their first postseason experience right now, can learn from their veteran teammates.
“Early in my career, I had several veterans who did things the right way, and maybe some who didn’t do things so much the right way,” Love said. “Kyle is a guy who constantly does the right thing and a guy that younger players should watch. He’s seen it all, done it all, at this point.”
Any player can come through with a big game in the NBA. It’s part of what makes the postseason so exciting. Still, this Cavaliers team is looking toward its vets to help James shift the series back in their favor.
Korver will be ready, as he’s always been.