Defending the 3-point line was a thorn in Indiana’s side throughout much of the 2016-17 regular season, but it’s been particularly bothersome against Cleveland’s Kyle Korver. Since joining the Cavaliers, the 36-year-old sharpshooter has connected on 48.5 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. In two games against the Pacers, his accuracy rate ballooned to a downright gaudy 82.4 percent (14-of-17), and his team outscored the Blue & Gold by an average of 25.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.
He canned multiple 3s running off screens and shooting over the top of Aaron Brooks’ shorter frame (bang). He effortlessly drained a 31-foot bomb after Myles Turner netted him too much space on the switch (bang), and he nailed this corner long-ball despite the fact that Glenn Robinson III was breathing down his neck (bang).
Aaron Brooks can’t make himself grow. Myles Turner isn’t going to suddenly improve at defending in space, and sometimes good closeouts aren’t good enough against great shooters. However, just because Cleveland’s roster allows for the sort of lineup flexibility that will naturally contribute to some of these match-up issues doesn’t mean the Pacers should compound the problem by making mental errors.
For instance, they can’t — really, really can’t —- afford to sink into the lane in transition. It’s a basic math problem. If the defense has to surrender something, give up the lay-up. Not the uncontested three in the left corner, where Korver is shooting 59.3 percent. Instead, Robinson III needs to go ahead and let Tristan Thompson crash hard to the rim and hope that he either misses the dunk or that Turner sends the 49 percent free throw shooter to the line.
Later in the same contest, Monta Ellis committed a similar sin. Here, he turns his back on Korver in order to sprint toward Kyrie Irving.
Indiana’s 31-year-old guard has also been on the wrong side of some bad rotation decisions. Take this possession for instance, Jeff Teague essentially quit on the play after he and Paul George switched the Irving-James side pick and roll. This forced C.J. Miles to have to rotate to LeBron, leaving Ellis stuck between the rock and the hard place. Cover for Miles and run toward Kevin Love, or stick with Korver. He opted for the former, but quickly thereafter experienced buyer’s remorse.
He gambled wrong, again, when he attempted to help Kevin Seraphin closeout on DeAndre Liggins instead of staying at home on his own man.
Unfortunately, Korver has also been the benefactor of several other flubs beyond those committed by Robinson III and Ellis. Obviously, there’s really no excusing Paul George’s decision to go under Thompson’s screen, here.
Still, the length of Indiana’s four-time All-Star makes him the best equipped to float around the perimeter and stay attached to Korver’s hip (or, make up for being out of position). If it becomes necessary to sag off of him to help on Irving pick and rolls in the half court, George (generally) has the defensive awareness as well as the wherewithal to do so without losing his man behind the arc.
But, herein lies the problem. George can’t guard Korver AND LeBron James.
The Cavs use Korver off the bench, but the aging sharpshooter has played more minutes (44) with Irving, James, Love, and Thompson than any of the rest of Cleveland’s five-man lineups of which he is a part. Next up are the small-ball reserve units with Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye, James, and either Kay Felder (40) or Deron Williams (39).
Indy will have to try to match the firepower of Cleveland’s stretchy bench with Stephenson, Brooks, Miles, George, and Seraphin. That group is plus-10 in 20 minutes as opposed to minus-8 in 18 when Lavoy Allen replaces George. Frye will be a tough cover for the slimmer version of Al Jefferson, but the team’s plethora of plodding big men leaves scant other options.
No matter which group Cleveland uses more, the same principle should apply. If Korver and LeBron are on the floor at the same time, then Paul George and Lance need to be on the floor at the same time.
Stephenson’s off-ball defense has a tendency to be snoozy (a la Monta Ellis), but his brute strength and athleticism is enough to allow George the option to chase Korver when need be.
On the season, only four teams allowed more three-point attempts per 100 possessions than the Pacers and only four teams allowed more ‘wide open’ three-point attempts per game. They’re already going to have their hands full with Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and Kevin Love. They can’t afford for Kyle Korver’s shooting to be white-hot, too.