Friday, May 13, 2011
Posted: 12:25 a.m.
By John R. Finger
ATLANTA Stick around long enough and its easy to get old. The truth is, the passage of time kind of sneaks up on athletes if they arent paying attention.
So after the Chicago Bulls eliminated the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday night at the Phillips Arena in a 93-73 Game 6 rout to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, Kyle Korver took a brief second to look around the room and take it all in.
To his left was Derrick Rose, the third-year star who already has an MVP trophy to his credit. Off to his left was Joakim Noah, the defensive wiz and college star who has championships, plural, from college. Korver, in the middle of it all, assessed it perfectly.
Im one of the oldest guys in here, he said. Its special, but our goal is to keep on going.
Korver, at 30, was the second oldest player Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau put on the floor in Thursday nights clincher, which is mind-boggling if you think about it. Korver, the former Sixers sharpshooter who still holds the team record for three-pointers made in a season, is now a veteran and an old one at that.
Needless to say, things are much different now at the beginning of his career, when he was still establishing himself as an NBA player. At the time, he was a little known kid from Creighton University, a second-round pick who elbowed his way into some serious minutes for a team going nowhere fast.
So yeah, moving onto the conference finals for the first time in his career is a different feeling than the old days back in Philadelphia.
I remember getting that little pocket calendar, and it has eight folds to it and you would be like after the last fold, thats it, Korver said with a giggle. It was such a strange feeling to be watching basketball and see guys still playing and it felt like we were done for a month and you had been done for a month. So to be a part of a team now that really has a shot, you have to embrace the moment.
There wasnt much to embrace with the Sixers on the floor during his first five years in the league. The Sixers made the playoffs just once during his time in town, lasting just five games during the 2005 postseason. So when general manager Ed Stefanski took over for Billy King before the 2007-08 season, one of his first moves was to trade away the sharpshooting fan favorite.
Utah was Korvers landing spot and Philadelphia got back a guy named Gordan Giricek, who played a grand total of 12 games for the Sixers before he was waived.
So essentially, Korver was given away to Utah for the Sixers.
Looked at objectively, handing off the guy who has the club record for three-pointers made (and taken) in a season and rates behind only Allen Iverson for the most three-pointers all-time makes sense. Korver, according to Stefanski at the time, was a luxury for a team beginning its rebuilding process. Moreover, Korvers effectiveness as a long-range bombardier was limited on a team without a low-post threat.
Better yet, Korvers departure took more than 4 million off the books cash that came in handy when the team signed Elton Brand that off-season.
Certainly, the new-look Sixers have a lot of promise. Young guards Jodie Meeks, Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams are three-point threats, despite the fact that the team is still missing that low-post presence.
They have a great young team with a lot of energy, said Korver, noting that he still followed his old team. They are very athletic and thats what they were trying to do when I was leaving. They have a lot of great young pieces. Elton Brand had a much better year and they have a really great coach, so theyre going to get better.
Korver, meanwhile, has done pretty well for himself since leaving Philadelphia. In fact, hes been just what Stefanski said he was for a Utah team that advanced past the first round of the playoffs in two of the three seasons he was there. Last season, though battling a knee injury, Korver set the NBA record for three-point shooting percentage, burying them at a 53.6 clip.
But having just finished the first season of a three-year, 15 million deal he signed with Chicago, Korver could be that luxury item Bulls fans remember, cut from the mold of Craig Hodges, Jim Paxson and Steve Kerr.
That is, of course, if he finds his missing shot.
The Bulls are going to need it, too, if they want to move on. Next up is LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat and a chance for a berth in the NBA Finals. To advance, the Bulls will need Korver to be a bigger factor than he was during the six games against the Hawks.
Defense, as evidenced on Thursday night, is the Bulls forte. With newly minted MVP Rose carrying the offense, posting 19 points and 12 assists in the clincher, the Bulls cruised mostly because they did not allow the Hawks to score more than 20 points in a quarter.
Where Thibodeau has looked to Korver is when the team needs to space the floor and get some offense. Thats if Thibodeau looked to him at all.
Korver scored seven points in the clincher in 19 minutes. He hit an open three-pointer midway through the final quarter that proved to be the shot that sent the Hawks fans looking for the exits. But in the second quarter, which he started and played nearly all 12 minutes, Korver shot 1 for 5, missed two three-pointers and picked up three fouls.
Its a make or miss league. So if hes open, he shoots. If he misses, its OK as long as they are his shots, Thibodeau said. We feel like hes gotten the shots and they havent gone down for him, but they will.
The final line on Thursday is a big improvement based off the past two games of the series. In Game 4, Korver went 1 for 8, including 0 for 5 from three-point range. He also shot 1 for 9 in Game 2, though he managed to go a combined 7 for 13 from three-point range in the first three games. However, in the Bulls crucial Game 5 victory, Thibodeau used Korver for just four minutes, turning to Taj Gibson for the scoring off the bench.
It had nothing to do with Korver missing shots, Thibodeau explained. It had everything to do with the group the Hawks had out there and what the game needed at that particular time.
Still, Korver was quick to point out that the Bulls are only half way there, and often the NBA playoffs can account for more than 20 percent of the games in a given season. Shooting, more than anything, is all about confidence. Since Korver buried both of his shots in the final quarter on Thursday night, hes on a roll.
After all, a shooter is only as good as his last shot and the Bulls are going to make sure Korver gets his. Before Thursdays game Korver spent time working on the pick-and-pop play, which is all the rage in the NBA these days.
Certainly that wasnt the case when he was in Philly.
The offenses Ive been in have been a much different style, he said. Utah was very unique and in Philly we did a lot of one-on-one and isolation and in Utah we didnt do any of that.
They dont in Chicago, either. Regardless, if the Bulls are going to get their first post-Jordan championship, an old Sixer is going to have to make some shots.
E-mail John R. Finger at email@example.com
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