Commentary

Bulls keep cool about cold Kyle Korver

East finals not the time to tinker with rotation that has worked so well all season

Updated: May 20, 2011, 10:11 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Kyle Korver is chest-deep in microphones, patiently explaining why his jumper has been rolling and rimming but not falling.

An explanation is necessary, because having lived by the outside shot throughout his nine-year NBA career, Korver is currently dying by it.

An exaggeration though it might be, it is appropriate given the reaction to Korver's cool shooting recently. And it is just recently we're talking about.

The Chicago Bulls guard actually began this postseason in fine form, hitting eight of his first 10 shots against the Indiana Pacers in the first round. For the series, Korver shot 49 percent, including 5-for-6 in Game 3 -- an 88-84 Bulls victory. And he was 59 percent from the 3-point line against the Pacers, including 4-for-4 in Game 1, a 104-99 win for the Bulls.

But since midway through the second round -- after going 4-for-6 from the field and 3-for-4 on 3-pointers for 11 points in a 99-82 Bulls victory over Atlanta -- Korver has gone cold. In the five games since then, he is 6-for-25 from the floor and 3-for-15 from 3-point range for 15 points combined.

And so he has been busy explaining himself since Wednesday's Game 2 home loss to Miami, in which he was 1-of-5 on 3-point tries, 1-of-7 in all.

"It's very frustrating," Korver said Friday as the Bulls prepared for Game 3 on Sunday. "You want to make shots, and the easy thing to do is to press harder and get really mad. I thought I had some good looks.

[+] EnlargeKyle Korver
Gary Dineen/Getty ImagesThe Bulls' Kyle Korver started the postseason red-hot but is slumping in recent games.

"The ball was in and out, the ball was off the back of the rim," he said. "Coaches have a saying, 'It's a good miss.' As a shooter, you hate that saying. It's a miss. But I just keep on trying to be confident. The series is young, there's a long way to go and there's going to be a lot more shots to be taken. And to dwell on the shots that went in and out or you missed earlier is just going to hurt you for later on."

Nevertheless, because it's human nature and because there are an ungodly three and a half days between games in the Eastern Conference finals, there have been repeated cries to cut back on Korver's minutes or to have Rasual Butler, who has yet to play this postseason, replace him altogether.

The reasoning is that in addition to Korver's shooting slump, he is not helping the Bulls defensively, which is to say he is not bringing much to the proverbial table. It goes something like this: Whoever Korver is guarding will typically screen for LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. Korver switches and either one takes advantage.

At least that's what happened with the score tied at 73 with four and a half minutes remaining in Game 2, when Mike Bibby entered the game following a Miami timeout and set a screen on Luol Deng. Korver, who was guarding Bibby, rotated to cover James but was a step late, leaving James open for a 3-pointer. The Heat outscored the Bulls 12-2 from that point to close out the game.

Asked whether he would consider changing his rotation late in games and leaving Korver on the bench, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau continued to hold firm.

"That's the way we finish games; that's what we've done all season," Thibodeau said. "You need shooting on the floor. We have to try to open it up. Kyle's fine."

He is right, of course, as he has been on most occasions this season. Korver would have to miss several dozen more shots for the Heat to stop accounting for him on offense, thus allowing the Bulls to spread the floor and open up passing lanes. And a coach who has preached consistency and led his team to the best record in the league through repetition is not going to suddenly remove his biggest offensive threat off the bench, thus pretty much ensuring Korver would never find his touch again.

Korver, who played golf on the team's day off Thursday and inserted the joke himself by revealing that he shot poorly, is not the type to panic.

He has played in 294 playoff games in his career, and as you might assume, he has been up and down. Last year, he shot 52.5 percent (32-of-61) in 10 playoff games for Utah, including 48 percent (11-of-23) from 3-point range. The year before, in five playoff games, he was 39 and 46 percent. And the year before that, in 12 playoff games for the Jazz, he was 41 and 29 percent.

"I'm not going to get wide-open looks in this series or the playoffs, really. Very, very rarely," Korver said. "And then when you do get one, you're almost like, 'Ooh'. That's just the way it goes. I've played in the playoffs before and I've had bad games and I've had good games. You want every game to be a good one and you want to make every shot, and it's easy to get down on yourself. But you just have to forget about it and move on to the next one."

After the first three playoff games this postseason, Korver was 17-of-30 from beyond the arc, the fifth-highest percentage (56.7) in a single postseason in NBA history for players with a minimum of 30 attempts.

In Game 3 against Indiana, 10 of Korver's points came in the fourth quarter, a reminder that during the regular season, he scored at least 10 points in the fourth quarter of six games, second-best on the team to you-know-who. And Korver made an NBA-best 58 3-pointers in the fourth quarter or overtime during the season.

To even consider benching him is foolish.

"A shooter goes hot and cold," Bulls guard Ronnie Brewer said. "But you've got to find other ways to be effective on the court because he might go 0-for-10 last game and he might go 10-for-11 next game. We know he's a great shooter and he puts the work in, so we're not really worried about it too much."

It'll be nice if Korver gets a step faster on defense before Game 3, but if he finds his shooting touch, it will more than make up for it.

In the meantime, he might be frustrated but, like every great shooter, hesitant he is not.

"You got to think next shot," Korver said. "And you've got to think next game."

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.