“Make the other guys beat you.”
Tell me if you recognize this exhausted cliche that has helplessly followed LeBron James around from series to series. Despite its futility, the adage of cutting off LeBron’s playmaking while forcing him into jump shots has been the supposed blueprint for dethroning the King. This strategy is especially helpless when his teammates are able to shoulder some of the burden for long stretches.
Thursday night, James allowed someone else to drive the ship to the Eastern Conference Finals, as evidenced by his 15 points. Those 15 points is the lowest total for LeBron in any series-clinching victory. It should be extremely encouraging to Cavs fans that the best player in the world can put up a pedestrian point total and his team still wins by 21 points. J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert have been launching fireballs for a large stretch this season, but it was another guy who took a lead role last night.
After Thursday’s kick-your-door-down performance, Matthew Dellavedova will most likely never be allowed to step foot in a Chicago restaurant or bar again. Delly cracked the 20-minute mark for just the second time in these playoffs, injecting himself into the action any way he could during his 34 minutes of play.
On top of the extra run due to Kyrie Irving’s nagging lower body injuries, Delly’s season-high of 19 points couldn’t have come at a better time. In his nine previous playoff games, his scoring average was a puny 4.6 PPG. Whenever LeBron went into the high post, Delly served as his release valve and hit 3-for-6 from deep.
However, merely labeling Delly as a safety valve doesn’t paint the total picture of his contributions. He also put the ball on the floor, navigated the paint and contorted himself in order to get clean looks. He plays like a waterbug, scurrying across the hardwood with his arms and legs chopping and flailing. He was always in constant motion, forcing Chicago’s point guards to do a lot of heavy lifting defensively:
Rose is forced to work hard here in order to keep up with Dellavedova’s abrupt starts and stops. Rose is overplaying him, so he fakes a backdoor cut and forces Rose to lean towards the paint. After the back cut, Delly immediately goes to screen for LeBron. Rose is now two steps behind as he anticipates a Delly screen, but Delly slips the screen as both Rose and Jimmy Butler chase LeBron. This yields a wide open splash for Dellavedova.
The play above is just one example of the rapport that LeBron and Delly had during Game 6. LBJ has a new-found trust in the young Aussie, and it was this faith that allowed Dellavedova to be LeBron’s Robin for a night. According to NBA.com, he ended Game 6 with 59 touches, second-most behind only LeBron. Another play demonstrates Dellavedova’s ability to make a quick, decisive action when Chicago’s defense was scrambling or late on rotations:
On this play in the fourth quarter, LeBron brings the ball up the floor and goes immediately to the high post. Butler battled LeBron all series on the block, winning some of the battles and taking it on the chin in others. With the series and their season on the line, Coach Thibs decided to force the ball out of LeBron’s hands by bringing a double with Joakim Noah. LeBron has always been one of the best passers out of the post, but when desperation sets in then you have to start forcing the issue and attempt to get deflections by disrupting LeBron’s passing lanes:
As Noah brings the double from the baseline, LeBron already knows it’s coming. He knows the skip pass to Delly will force Chicago to scramble. Taj Gibson is left to rotate to Noah’s man, Tristan Thompson, who’s ready to duck in for an offensive rebound. Kirk Hinrich must shade towards Smith to prevent a quick three out of the post. This is where things get dicey for Chicago. Aaron Brooks is forced to zone up between Dellavedova on the wing and Shumpert in the corner:
The two arrows in the screenshot above illustrate just how big no man’s land is for Brooks. As the ball reaches Dellavedova, Brooks is responsible for two assignments as Gibson tries to recover to Shumpert and Noah scurries back to Thompson. One simple ball fake gets Brooks to lean towards Shumpert, giving Delly enough room to charge the lane:
Once Dellavedova gains a step, he puts a whirling spin move on Brooks and adds insult to injury by hitting the shot and bowling Brooks to the ground. Throughout the entire second half, Delly proved that he can make the wide open set shot. It was these types of shots, the ones that Chicago wanted him to take, that are going to open up the floor for the rest of his teammates.
Assuming they advance past the East, it’ll undoubtedly be an uphill battle for the Cavaliers no matter who the Western Conference opponent is. With Kevin Love in a sling and Irving visiting the hyperbaric chamber between quarters, Cleveland will need every single rotation player to hit their peak, but the margin for error just got a little bit slimmer with the emergence of Dellavedova.