The Legend of Delly continues to grow
CLEVELAND — Obscurity to NBA Finals spotlight? Check.
Hospital in the early morning hours, practice by mid-afternoon? Check.
From an undrafted rookie backup out of Saint Mary’s on a 33-win team last season to starting point guard on a team that could win an NBA title next week?
At this point, betting against Matthew Dellavedova seems as silly as all of the above may have sounded two months ago.
The Legend of Delly — his nickname probably adds to his popularity — continues to grow. Dellavedova scored 20 points, ran himself ragged and eventually to a local hospital about two hours after the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday night to be treated for extreme dehydration, adding another chapter to his underdog fairy tale.
By Wednesday afternoon he was back with the Cavs claiming he was getting fluids and feeling better, and coach David Blatt said Dellavedova would be ready for Game 4. Blatt said, too, that he told Dellavedova he’d be careful with his minutes in light of the dehydration incident, and Dellavedova told him that wasn’t happening. With the Cavs down to basically seven players, Dellavedova is logging heavy minutes, making big shots and spending plenty of time nose-to-nose with Warriors guard Stephen Curry, the NBA’s MVP.
Curry was 5-of-23 in Game 2 and is working for everything he gets — like Irving has had to do in two seasons of practice against Dellavedova. The Cavs are playing serious defense, dictating the tempo and Dellavedova is fighting for loose balls, jumping over chairs and people to keep plays alive and starting fast breaks that have ended in dunks and momentum-grabbing plays for the Cavs, who have won two straight without Irving to grab the series lead.
Dellavedova had a 19-point, nine-assist game in the second round of the playoffs, but that was against a Bulls team that left him open and dared him to shoot. In Game 3 of the Finals, he came off a screen, got fouled by Curry and threw in a bank shot plus a foul that stopped a Golden State run that had seen the Warriors cut a 20-point third-quarter deficit to one in the fourth quarter.
Wednesday, Dellavedova grinned from ear-to-ear when asked if he called bank on that shot.
It was the kind of shot that Irving makes, though maybe a bit more gracefully. Dellavedova keeps finding himself in the middle of the action — he sealed Game 2 of The Finals with two free throws after being fouled on a rebound — and keeps delivering. The Cavs continue to reinvent themselves on the fly, following the lead of LeBron James in the wake of injuries that have knocked Irving and All-Star forward Kevin Love out of the postseason.
Dellavedova averaged 4.8 points per game in about 21 minutes per game in the regular season. He’s averaging 7.5 points in 23 minutes in the postseason, and after playing just nine minutes in Game 1 before Irving’s injury he’s totaled 81 minutes, 29 points and 10 rebounds while guarding Curry in the two games since.
"I’m definitely not as surprised as everyone else is (at his success)," Irving said.
Said Blatt: "I think that Delly, rightfully so, has earned Kyrie’s respect, and I think that Kyrie has also lifted him up by encouraging him, by giving him confidence, by talking with him, by believing in him. You have just a great relationship there between the two of them, and you want that between your starting point guard and your backup point guard. Obviously, right now the tables have turned and Kyrie is out, so he’s just supporting Delly. But I think they’ve helped each other grow a great deal, and that’s one of the great things about the dynamic of a team."
Dellavedova probably won’t ever be a max-contract player or major player in the endorsement game the way Irving is, but he’s becoming a bit of a cult hero amongst Cavs fans and a known pest to opponents. James has defended him in news conferences against allegations that he’s dirty, calling him the kind of player every successful team needs and every opponent hates. During a Wednesday interview session, someone asked James if he thought Dellavedova should be knighted in Australia.
"Whatever Delly wants or needs, I’m all for,’" James said, laughing.
An Australian news outlet here in Cleveland covering the Finals reported that the high school gym in Dellavedova’s Australian hometown of Maryborough will soon be renamed "The Dellavedova Dome." Maybe more accolades are coming. Maybe more memorable nights are coming, too, nights that don’t end with hospital visits.
"When I first came here last summer and we were practicing in preparation for the Las Vegas Summer League, I knew (Dellavedova) was special," Blatt said. "I’ve been around the block a few times, and you recognize character when you see it. You recognize guys that are team oriented and have their values and their ideals for how to play the game in the right place.