If you ignore the final score, just for a fleeting moment, the statistics were not kind to Matthew Dellavedova. The Cleveland Cavaliers starting point guard – the stand-in for the injured Kyrie Irving – was scoreless in the opening half. He committed six total turnovers. He converted only 1 of 6 three-point attempts.
But about that final score, the only numbers that truly matter. The underdog, undermanned and injury-riddled Cavs stuck it to the deeper, balanced and healthier Warriors 95-93 in overtime Sunday night, with Dellavedova making many of the plays that shocked the basketball world and ended all chatter about a possible sweep.
Sure, LeBron James produced another triple double, Timofey Mozgov badly outplayed Andrew Bogut for a second consecutive game, and Iman Shumpert swiped Steph Curry’s pass in the closing seconds of overtime. Yet basketball is a game of spurts, of strange twists and turns, and on some nights, a combination of Hoosiers and Rocky and magical moments for the most improbable performers.
Dellavedova, the former Saint Mary’s standout and Australian native who goes by the nickname “Delly,” seemingly came out of nowhere and accomplished two major tasks: He made crucial, timely contributions, almost all of them during deciding segments of the game. Rebounds, loose balls, a three-pointer in the fourth period. And defensively? He bumped, bodied, chased and harassed Curry into one of the worst evenings in recent memory.
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The league’s reigning MVP succeeded on 5 of 23 field-goal attempts, committed six turnovers and had few open looks at the basket. More often, he was staring at an elbow, a wrist, and the outstretched arms of the 6-foot-4 Dellavedova, most notably on the potential game-winning jumper from the left side.
Dellavedova, who had just converted two free throws for a 94-93 lead and 10 seconds remaining in overtime, knew what was coming. The Oracle Arena crowd was on its feet, the fans voices imploring the MVP to work more of his magic, the Warriors huddling up for a final timeout and to plot for the dramatic finish.
The ending was dramatic all right, except that the finish deviated from the Warriors’ script. There was Curry, getting the ball, dribbling into the left corner, and elevating for another of his textbook jumpers. There, too, was Dellavedova, rushing toward the left corner, running hard at the league’s purest shooter, extending his arms and contesting the shot, then cherishing the most improbable of outcomes: an airball.
“It had everything to do with Delly,” James said afterward. “He just kept a body on Steph. He made Steph work. He was spectacular, man, defensively. We needed everything from him. You contest (a shot) and you live with the results, and I think Delly did that.”
Given Dellavedova’s wretched opening half, when he was benched at one point in favor of the seldom-utilized Mike Miller, who expected his final flourish? Actually, the Cavs. They know their Aussie well. They talk about the two Delly’s, the one who can commit silly fouls, throws passes into crowds of defenders, dribble off his foot, miss jumpers by miles. The other Delly is just a winner. Check back to the final score.
“He’s not quick, not strong, not athletic, but he just knows how to win,” said Cavs assistant Larry Drew. “He does all the little things. You ask him to defend, to box out, to dive on floor for loose balls. He's just a gutsy kid. Made some big plays down the stretch. That’s what he does.”
On Sunday, he did a little more than that. He revived a series, enlivened a much-anticipated championship series. No Kevin Love. No Irving. But, hey, the Cavs have Dellavedova, and they’re still kicking.