When a Switch Flips: Even Cavs Vets in Disbelief over Sudden Playoff Turnaround

Yaron WeitzmanFeatured ColumnistMay 18, 2017

BOSTON, MA - MAY 17:  Isaiah Thomas #4 of the Boston Celtics drives to the basket against Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second half during Game One of the 2017 NBA Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden on May 17, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

BOSTON — Kyle Korver likes to think of himself as a well-reasoned, intelligent man. He believes in things he can see.

So this magical "switch" he'd heard so much about around Cleveland was no different than other figments of imagination. Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, tooth fairy, flip-switchers—they're all the same.

"I've always been told that it wasn't real, that there wasn't a switch that can just be flipped on," Korver told Bleacher Report Thursday afternoon. 

Korver brought this mentality with him to the court for the first 13-and-a-half years of his career. It's helped him carve out a niche as one of the game's premier long-distance snipers, which is why, over the past few weeks, he's been shocked to discover that he was wrong all along.

On Jan. 7, the Atlanta Hawks traded Korver to the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers. At the time, Korver thought he knew what awaited in Cleveland. The Cavaliers were gunning for a second straight title. Their star, LeBron James, was hunting the ghost of Michael Jordan.

This, Korver figured, would be one of the most intense and buttoned-up basketball environments he ever entered. Instead, he watched the Cavaliers, behind one of the weakest defenses in the league, drop 14 of their final 24 games, fall out of the No. 1 seed and enter the postseason tired, old and vulnerable.

"I was really concerned," Korver said. "But everyone just kept on telling me, 'Don't worry about it, we're all good. 

"And it turns out they were right."

It's not just that the Cavaliers have run off nine straight wins thus far this postseason, including an overwhelming 117-104 win over the Celtics in Boston Wednesday night in the Eastern Conference Finals' opening game, that has Korver reconsidering his belief in a team's ability to flip on a fake light switch. It's the way in which they've devastated opponents like the Celtics and Toronto Raptors, teams that ended the regular season looking like possible threats. 

Cleveland has actually upped its scoring this postseason—typically a time where baskets are more difficult to come by—by about seven points per 100 possessions.

They've also plugged up holes on the other end of the floor. The Cavs held the Raptors to 100.9 points per 100 possessions in the second round, an eight-point improvement from their regular-season mark.

"I mean these guys have been playing into the playoffs deep into June for three years now. It's easy to get bored in the regular season," Cavaliers guard Deron Williams told Bleacher Report. "The intensity isn't there game in and game out. But now you've got rest, you're not playing back-to-backs, you get to focus on one team and lock in on them. For a team like this, with this many veterans, it sets up perfect for how we're built."

Like Korver, Williams, a 13-year veteran, was added to the fold late in the season and grew concerned with what he saw.

"We didn't end the season well. It wasn't looking good for us," said Williams, who was signed by the Cavaliers on Feb. 27 after being waived by the Dallas Mavericks. "You know, I was nervous because I haven't been a part of a team like this. I was like, 'I hope we can do it, I know we can lock in, I've seen it for games.' But it just wasn't consistent."

As with everything in "Cavs Land," much of this turnaround is courtesy of LeBron James. Over these nine games, he's played perhaps the best basketball of his career. He's averaging 34.8 points—on 56.0 percent shooting—9.0 rebounds and 7.1 assists this postseason. He's left opposing coaches grasping for ways to slow him down. 

LeBron James is posting playoff averages of 34.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 7.1 assists on 56.0 percent.
LeBron James is posting playoff averages of 34.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 7.1 assists on 56.0 percent.Elsa/Getty Images

"It's hard to believe, but he's better than when I got into the league [four years ago]," Celtics head coach Brad Stevens told reporters after Game 1. "A lot better. Just as you get older, you gain more experience, see more things. I didn't think he could get any better after that, but he is." 

But both Korver and Williams, the lone newcomers in the Cavaliers' primary rotation, believe there's more to it. 

"Really, I think, it's all on the defensive end, I think our offense, really all season was great; just defensively we weren't very sharp, we weren't where we needed to be," Korver said.

"The coverages that this team is best at...they take a lot of energy, they take a lot of showing and blitzing and trapping, guys who play so long into the summer every year; it's easy to lose focus on that, to play with that intensity."

The difference, according to Korver, is simple: In the playoffs there are no games on consecutive nights. Also, teams have more time to develop and implement game plans, and players have more time to absorb them. 

So, does that mean Korver is ready to become a believer in proverbial electric levers?

"The switch is certainly real here," he said. "But only here."

     

All stats courtesy of NBA.com. Yaron Weitzman covers the NBA and other things for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.