J.R. Smith is only 275 career 3-pointers behind Kyle Korver and presumably has hopes of catching him.
But a moment captured on television during the Cavaliers’ series-clinching Game 4 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Sunday at Air Canada Centre opened the window to what might border on a mentor-student relationship.
Korver’s corner 3-pointer with 3:52 left in the second quarter drew a reaction from Smith that was a combination of utmost respect and childlike glee.
When Korver took a pass from Kevin Love and launched the shot, Smith got up from his seat on the bench. As Korver ran downcourt, Smith jumped up and down, rolling his arms excitedly.
“Oh, man, it’s fun. I’ve been waiting to see it,” Smith said. “He had that one game in Indiana, but I didn’t travel with the team. Finally being out there on the court with him while he’s doing it is a treat to watch.”
On Sunday, Korver scored 18 points, 16 in the second quarter, hitting 6-of-8 from the field and 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. That followed up his 14-point contribution in Game 3, when he went 5-of-7 overall and 4-of-6 on threes.
In the first six games of the playoffs, Korver averaged just five points as LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love carried the Cavs.
The Korver game that Smith regretted missing while sidelined after right thumb surgery came Feb. 8 at Indiana, when Korver hit 10 of 12 field goals, 8-of-9 from beyond the arc, and scored 29 points.
But Smith will have at least one more series to cheer for Korver, acquired in a Jan. 7 trade with the Atlanta Hawks. Korver, 36, tied for fifth in NBA history with 2,049 regular-season 3-pointers, will become a free agent this summer.
Continuing their quest to repeat as NBA champions, the Cavs await the winner of the Boston Celtics-Washington Wizards series in the Eastern Conference finals, which will open May 15 at the earliest.
During the playoffs, Smith has been challenged to defend the opponents’ leading scorer and has averaged six points in eight games. But while Smith accepts the responsibility willingly, he will also be studying Korver every chance he gets.
“It was an unbelievable shooting display Kyle put on for us,” Smith said Sunday.
Asked why he was jumping up and down, Smith said, “Whenever he shoots the ball you’ve got to anticipate it going in. He shoots so consistent and the same way over and over again. Once you talk to him about his shot, he dissects people’s shot better than anybody I’ve seen, even with mine. It’s great to have him.”
Korver has also offered advice to James and Thompson about their free throw shooting and can be a hardliner if his pupils incorporate only parts of what he tells them. But Korver’s ability to come off the bench and provide instant offense and his art of shooting on the run may be coveted by more than Smith.
“He’s phenomenal,” James said of Korver on ABC. “The biggest impact that he gives to our team is another guy with professionalism. He comes in to work every single day with a championship DNA, with a mindset that he wants to get better and sacrifice. And that’s huge for our club.”
When the Raptors made second-half adjustments that limited his open shots, Korver defended, dove for loose balls and rebounded, with four of his five boards coming in the final two quarters. In Game 3 Friday, he blocked two shots and finished with three in the series, second on the team behind James.
Korver was asked how he’s able to get his shot going when he enters the game and he offered no real secrets.
“No one else really cares if you’re stiff, they just want you to make it,” he said. “You’ve got to get ready on the sideline, do the things to mentally prepare, do little things to stretch out your body and be ready to make that first shot.”
As for the rhythm his shot requires, he said, “A lot of things help. Open corner threes are always nice.”
So is the attention drawn by James and Irving.
Ironically, Korver has a little bit of the same teammate envy for Channing Frye’s 3-point prowess that Smith has for his.
“I tell him that all the time. He’s such a weapon, to be 7-feet and have that kind of touch,” Korver said of Frye. “Having someone 7-feet who can shoot a feathery three like he does is nice.”