CLEVELAND — Asked to explain how the Cleveland Cavaliers were able to tie up the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics 2-2, winning two games in a row by a combined 39 points after dropping the first two by a combined 38, Kyle Korver didn’t mince words.
“We were just relying on LeBron [James] to do everything,” Korver said after the Cavs’ 111-102 win in Game 4 on Monday. James continued to shine as the series shifted to Cleveland, following 27 points and 12 assists in Game 3 with 44 points and five rebounds in Game 4. But the so-called “other Cavs” also made their presence felt.
In Game 3, five Cleveland players not named James scored in double digits. In Game 4, there were only three guys outside of James to score 10-plus points, but another three that scored 7-9 points.
“I just thought we played like a different team, to be honest,” Korver said. “Those first two games in Boston, that wasn’t us. That was really poor, poor basketball on our end. So, we’ve come home and we’ve taken care of business here. We got to win one there though, if we want to win the series.
“And I think hopefully we can take a lot of what we’ve done here the last couple games — we’ve had better movement, better body movement, better ball movement, screens, passing, our defense has been a lot more aggressive. So, we take that mentality to Boston and try to get Game 5.”
The 37-year-old Korver was the surprise star of Game 4, scoring 14 points off the bench and blocking a game-high three shots, all on the 21-year-old Jaylen Brown, who he was matched up against defensively for much of the night.
His defense has been remarkable over the past three games of the series, as Boston players have combined to shoot just 8-for-28 (29 percent) in that span with Korver on them as the primary defender, according to data compiled by ESPN Stats & Information.
“I’ve loved Kyle ever since we made the trade to get him here,” James said, referring to the midseason deal to acquire Korver in 2016-17. “I have no idea how Griff [David Griffin] was able to pull that off still to this day. He’s just a true professional. There’s not many of us ’03 [draft] class guys still around. 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, especially in tonight’s game.”
Then there was the time Korver sacrificed his body by diving onto the floor for a loose ball late in the third quarter, eluding both the 24-year-old Terry Rozier and the 24-year-old Marcus Smart while Cleveland was trying to stave off a Boston run.
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“I felt so incredibly old and slow when I dove after that ball, but the heart was in the right spot,” Korver said. “I’m going to be hurting tomorrow. My back is a little sore, my elbow is a little sore, but this is fun basketball.”
Korver was right, he has been faster before. In fact, according to Second Spectrum, there have been 22 times this postseason alone that he has moved faster than that.
Yet, a hustle play is a hustle play, and after Korver saved the possession by knocking the 50-50 ball out of bounds off Rozier, Quicken Loans Arena went wild.
“That means 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.”
A reporter then piped up to remind Lue that Korver is actually 37.
“He’s 37 now? God dang,” Lue said. “We’re playing him too many minutes. We need him, though. We need him.”
Like a dad getting carded at the bar while visiting his child at college during parent’s weekend, Korver didn’t mind one bit that Lue got his age wrong.
“I wish I was 36,” Korver said. “I loved being 36.”