CLEVELAND — After midnight, Matthew Dellavedova couldn’t speak to the media because he was suffering from cramps in the locker room. Later, he was taken to the Cleveland Clinic when the cramping became severe. Who knew that his leg issues might be the Warriors’ best hope of winning the NBA Finals?
No longer is this a fun, little story that is cuter than a koala bear. Dellavedova is becoming the biggest nightmare of Stephen Curry and Steve Kerr, a nuisance who has become the collective pride of Cleveland, his native Australia and St. Mary's in Moraga, where he played his college ball a few miles from Bob Myers' office in downtown Oakland.
Andrew Bogut advised Myers, the Warriors' general manager, to sign the fellow Aussie. Myers did not. Not in a billion eons would anyone have thought that decision, which didn't make a blip of news at the time, would be a major factor if the Warriors go on to lose the championship to Dellavedova and the Cavaliers.
Once again, the feisty guard was an inspirational force in Cleveland's 96-91 victory in Game 3. Thought to be an exploitable weakness after the loss of star point guard Kyrie Irving to a fractured kneecap, Dellavedova made the critical hustle plays at the end and earned the roars of Clevelanders who can't stop chanting his name. LeBron James is the head of this monster, obviously, but the cult hero known as "Delly" clearly is the heart and soul as the Cavaliers take a 2-1 lead into Game 4.
"I know one thing I'm going to count on with Delly is how hard he's going to play," James said. "He's going to give you everything he has. He's going to throw his body all over the place. And he's going to compete at a high level. It's great to have someone who will sacrifice everything he has for the good of this team."
As Curry faced criticism from Kerr for lacking 48 minutes of fire, Dellavedova was providing the model for high-energy performance on a 20-point night. After the Warriors rallied to trim Cleveland's lead to one, he responded by driving through the lane, falling and lifting a shot with his right hand that somehow went in. In the process, he drew a foul on Curry, made the free throw and gave the Cavaliers an 84-80 lead.
"TNT," came the music over the Quicken Loans Arena sound system, courtesy of AC/DC, the Aussie band.
"That was a huge turning point," said Curry, who made three turnovers in the final two minutes. "We were down 17 going into the fourth, bring it all the way back to one, and I tried to get out of the way. I don't know if I hit him or not, but he makes a great play off the backboard. We still had a chance to win regardless of that play. But it was a good turning point for him to get the crowd back into it. They obviously love the way he plays. He made some timely buckets, and that was one of them.''
With a minute left, Delly dove into a scrum like a fullback trying to recover a fumble. The Warriors' David Lee, all 6-10 of him, tussled with him on the floor. Guess who won the battle? Delly, of course, with a foul call on Lee as Draymond Green complained to the officials ... again.
"They seem to like him, don't they?" Cavs coach David Blatt said of the Cleveland fans. "Delly's the most Cleveland-like Australian I've ever met in my life. And if you're from Cleveland, you know just what I'm talking about. The guys love Delle because he just plays with all his heart and he cares first about the team and only about the team. Whether he's playing nine minutes or 40 minutes, he's going to give you everything you have. What's not to love about the guy?
"I tell you what, his biggest fan is sitting home right now, Kyrie Irving. Loves the guy. And he knows why, and we know why. We miss [Irving], by the way, a lot. And the other guy sitting out, too, Kevin Love, we miss him too. Need I say Andy [Varajeo], as well. We've got a lot of guys sitting out right now."
Guard Iman Shumpert, too, suffered a shoulder injury, but returned to the game. "I don't know to tell you exactly what is the situation with his shoulder," Blatt said. "He'll be examined right now. Exactly what they'll do in terms of the examination, better ask the doctors. But he was in some pain and he was hurting. Not a lot of guys come back out of the locker room and play the way he did, and my hat is off to him."
But then, this is a unique team in NBA history. The Cavaliers may be down to six players and they still might have enough to beat the Warriors, who lack the same desire.
"Dellavedova had 20," Green said. "You've got to take that away."
Time is starting to run out.