Amid the hugs and handshakes after the Cavaliers captured the Eastern Conference championship, LeBron James apologized to Kyle Korver and Deron Williams.

Not for any personal slight or critical comment, but for the mentally challenging end to the regular season. After posting a league-best 9-2 record in February, the Cavs went 10-14 in March and April, costing them the top seed in the East.

At the end of the game, LeBron came up to me and was like, Sorry for those first couple of months, but were here now, Korver said on May 25 after the Cavs closed out the Boston Celtics. Then he went to Deron and was like, Sorry for that one month, but were here now.?

As the Cavs open the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday at Oracle Arena, Korver and Williams are among five Finals first-timers on the Cavs roster, along with Derrick Williams, Kay Felder and Edy Tavares. Many of the Cavs who are making their third consecutive trip cherished the fact that its finally happening for Korver, 36, and Williams, 32.

I remember being a kid and watching D-Will pocket pass, Kyle in the 3-point competition, those guys just kind of coming up short, Tristan Thompson said in TD Garden. Being able to be part of the journey with them, going to their first-ever Finals, thats what really excites me the most about today.

Even though James surpassed Michael Jordan as the leagues playoff scoring leader, secured his seventh consecutive trip to the NBA Finals and eighth overall, and set up the third consecutive meeting with the Warriors, what most stuck with James was those going for the first time.

The first thing for me was seeing the excitement on Kyle and Derons face, James said of the personal feelings involved in one night.

Korver and Williams were having trouble coping with reality, which might not have hit until they boarded the plane Tuesday.

Its amazing. Especially since this is year 14 for me, for this to happen now, it means so much, Korver said in the euphoric locker room in Boston. You work all summer, you work all season for so many years in a row hoping to get to this point. I dont think its sunk in all the way yet. But its really special.

Williams said he didnt have time to get emotional in the locker room afterward because cold water was flying.

It hit me a little bit on the court, Williams said of the accomplishment. It was exciting. Surreal. Surreal feeling even though we kind of expected to be here.

Fourteen-year veteran James Jones, making his seventh consecutive trip (all with James), said the Finals rookies were the focus of the Cavs conference championship celebration.

Thats our theme. Continue to reach levels of success that our teammates have never had, Jones said. When its all said and done, look back on it and smile when youre done with the game. Thats what gives us joy tonight. Its not winning an Eastern Conference title, weve been there before, its about taking guys to another level, guys who have really sacrificed and done everything in their power to put this team in a position to be successful. We do it for each other.

Playoff veteran

Korver has reached the playoffs in 11 of his 14 seasons, also going with the Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls. But hed never been further than the Eastern Conference finals and had lost to James both times, in 2011 when Korvers Bulls fell to James and the Miami Heat and in 2015 when the Cavs swept the Hawks.

Williams is making his eighth playoff appearance in 12 seasons. But his best previous finish was a loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals in 2006-07 with the Jazz.

Williams and Korver spent three seasons together in Utah beginning in 2007-08, but they lost in the conference semifinals in two of those seasons and in the first round in the other.

We were talking about that out there, Korver said. Who would have thought however many years ago [when] we were playing in Utah that we would be in the other conference, playing with LeBron and going to the Finals together? You never know what life is going to bring.

Acquired by the Cavs in a Jan. 7 trade with the Hawks, Korver said even through a little tough stretch, he believed a trip to the NBA Finals was still possible.

I didnt doubt we would get here. I think we all believed. We believed in the players that are here. This is what I came here to do, Korver said.

Signed as a free agent Feb. 27 after being released by the Dallas Mavericks, Williams wasnt so sure.

I was like, Man, can we really turn it on?? Williams said. James Jones and some of the other veteran guys that have been here said, We will turn it on. I think thats whats happened. A team like this, veteran guys, guys who have won championships, guys who have been around, once they lock in on one team and just scouting that one team and thats all youre focused on, its a lot easier to flip that switch.

Shooting guard Korver missed 11 games in March and April with a sore tendon in his left foot that was partially alleviated by switching to a Kyrie Irving shoe.

Korver averaged 4.2 points in the Celtics series, 6.4 in the playoffs, but scored 14 and 18 points in Games 3 and 4 in a semifinal sweep of the Toronto Raptors.

Backup point guard Williams averaged 4.4 points and 2.2 assists against the Celtics and 5.6 points and 2.5 assists in the postseason. He tied his 2017 single-game playoff high with 14 points in the clincher in Boston.

Appreciating it

Both are waiting for NBA Finals advice from Cavs veterans and cherishing every moment.

It means a lot. Its one of those things where you dont know if its ever going to happen and dont know if its going to happen again, Williams said. I just want to make the most of this opportunity, enjoy it, soak it in and try to win a ring.

Korver thought back to his childhood, when he first took up the game in Pella, Iowa.

This is what you dream about growing up as a kid, Korver said. The NBA brings so much into your life, so many different things and opportunities. In its purest form when youre young, you think about the Finals. You think about going and trying to win a championship.

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs.