In Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova played just nine minutes. In Game 2, however, he played 45. With a +15 plus/minus rating, he brought crucial energy to a Cavaliers squad that was desperate for a victory. It was the first ever Finals victory for the Cavaliers in the history of their franchise, and Dellavedova was a vital contributor.
Upon the heartbreaking injury to Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving, the team needed a spark. Very few expected this to be from a player like Dellavedova, and LeBron James articulated that to the media (via Fox Sports):
“Obviously he’s a guy who’s been counted out his whole life…People telling him he’s too small, he’s not fast enough, can’t shoot it enough, can’t handle it good enough but he’s beat the odds so many times…The confidence we have in him allows him to be confident in himself…He goes out and he plays his tail off and when a guy like that does that he gets great results.“
The Australian native played college basketball at Saint Mary’s University in California and had hopes to make it big. After going undrafted in 2013, Dellavedova flourished on the Cavaliers’ NBA Summer League squad and was rewarded with a two-year contract. Since then, Cavs fans have known him as an opportune player who comes off the bench and occasionally brings a spark with his hustle and tenacity. Playing roughly 20 minutes per game, Dellavedova scored just under five points per game throughout the 2014-15 regular season.
Seeing Irving go down in Game 1 had many NBA analysts feeling Cleveland was in trouble. James’s All-Star efforts still had the team short of a victory in Game 1, and the Cavs needed someone to step up. In Game 2, Timofey Mozgov was excellent, posting a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds. But the most crucial factor in the Cavaliers’ Game 2 victory was the team’s defense against the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry.
Iman Shumpert and Dellavedova combined for six steals, each one being more important than the last, as the game went down to the wire. Shumpert’s perimeter defense on Curry was quite good, as it’s what he’s been known for throughout his career thus far. The efforts of Shump should be praised, but Dellavedova on the other hand, took the challenge of shutting down the NBA’s MVP with gusto.
The result? Curry’s shooting performance was one of the worst in NBA Finals history. No one has missed more three-pointers in a Finals game than Curry, who went 2-15 from deep on Sunday night and 5-23 overall. It couldn’t have been more crystal clear when late in the game the Warriors were in desperate need of a basket. Dellavedova’s resistance of a screen, and contest of the shot, forced an embarrassing air ball by Curry.
Dellavedova also made two free throws of enormity with 10 seconds left in overtime. After acquiring one of his five rebounds, he was fouled with the Cavaliers down a point. As Warriors fans went crazy knowing these free throws could very well determine the game, Dellavedova calmly sank both free throws as if it were a game of H.O.R.S.E. at the school yard. Cold. Blooded.
Not bad for a man whose team bus left without him after Game 1. Dellavedova didn’t even average one free throw attempt per game in the regular season. This had miss written all over it, but much as he’s done throughout his career, Delly beat the odds.
Cavs fans have loved his heart all season. He’ll continue to dive on loose balls and do the gritty things that many NBA stars aren’t willing to do. LeBron James believes in him, and after last night, so should you.