“Dirty.” “Punk.” “Reckless.” “Dangerous.”
Just some of the words used to describe Cavaliers point guard Matthew Dellavedova since Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Dellavedova has barely been out of the news cycle since his Game 3 run-in with Al Horford led to much debate about a pattern of play that has emerged in the postseason.
Horford was ejected for swinging an elbow at the Australian point guard, who Horford felt intentionally dived at his lower body, a move widely regarded as against the spirit of the game:
Whether he was seeking to injure Horford or this was simply coincidental, it came just days after a similar dive landed Kyle Korver on the operating table with a severe ankle sprain that ended his season and delivered the fatal blow to the Hawks:
And going back further, it’s easy to see why so many followers of the NBA are painting Dellavedova as a dirty player.
Rewinding back to Game 5 of the second round, Dellavedova tangled legs with Chicago’s Taj Gibson, provoking Gibson to kick out at a prone Dellavedova and earn himself an ejection. On review, Dellavedova appeared to have clamped the Bulls forward’s leg, prompting some to criticize the Australian for causing the incident:
I’m not going to pontificate about the intent of the Australian in any of these incidents, rather to point out that Dellavedova is far from the first to anger his opponents, nor will he be the last.
Joakim Noah (“dirty,” according to Danny Granger, LeBron James) has made a living in Chicago being a firebrand, the kind of intense, physical, talkative player who constantly does little things – remember his wild applause for Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers having an argument? – that pushes opponents’ buttons and eventually causes them to snap, almost universally to the benefit of the Bulls:
He’s not the only one. Andrew Bogut (“A glorious bastard,” per Grantland’s Zach Lowe) is undoubtedly the reigning MVP of annoying players. Where Noah will talk and do the subtle things, Bogut is the enforcer on the Golden State Warriors. He can be called upon to dish out hard fouls, set bone-crushing screens and be the man to step up and defend his teammates when necessary:
Los Angeles Clippers forward Matt Barnes lives his entire life on the precipice of delivering a cheap shot to Dwight Howard or some other unsuspecting big man. Dwyane Wade has been the subject of much ire for several rough plays in his career.
Then we come to the undisputed king of frustration. Kevin Garnett‘s (too many attributions to list) reputation as an elite scorer, rebounder and defender is matched only by his unparalleled ability to get under the skin of an opponent. Whether it’s barking like a dog, insulting Carmelo Anthony‘s wife, cup-checking Channing Frye or making Glen Davis cry, Garnett is king.
Garnett wasn’t even the first to do so. How modern social media would react to a prime Bill Laimbeer unloading double meat-hooks on airborne players is an intriguing thought experiment.
You get the picture?
The common thread this strain of NBA player shares is their unrelenting competitive spirit. For every person accusing them of underhanded or immoral tactics, there’s another lining up to praise their intensity, energy and hustle.
There exists a fine line between competitive and dangerous, but unless we’re talking Laimbeer two-arm shivers, J.R. Smith cold-clocking Jae Crowder or Andrew Bynum taking out J.J. Barea, can we wind back the rhetoric?