Go-ahead free throws in Game 2. Playoff career-high 20 points in Game 3. Lockdown defense on the league MVP.
Ladies and gentlemen, his name is Matthew Dellavedova, and his energy, passion and emotion have ignited the Cleveland Cavaliers to back-to-back wins over the Golden State Warriors and a 2-1 series lead in the NBA Finals.
Did anyone see this coming?
“No, I don’t think anyone would look you straight in the face and say that Dellavedova would be playing at this level on this type of stage,” NBA-TV analyst Stu Jackson said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “But as much as the Cavaliers are feeding off LeBron, they are also feeding emotionally off of Dellavedova and his hustle and his grit and his aggression and his undying attitude to never say die. I truly believe that they’re really feeding off this guy, and it’s astounding what’s taken place.”
Dellavedova has been labeled a dirty player by some, but Jackson – former Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations – doesn’t see it.
“I do not feel that he is a dirty player or exhibiting dirty play,” Jackson said. “What I do see is he’s the first player to hit the dirt. Every loose ball that’s available, he seemingly is there – and last night was no exception. That loose ball that he got late in the game – diving between (Timofey) Mozgov and the Warriors – was a possession save. That’s what role players are supposed to do. They’re supposed to come off the bench, play with energy, try to get you extra possessions, do the little things that make winning plays – and that describes this guy. Last night, he actually gave you some offense, which was a bonus, and that happens sometimes with role players when they’re at home. They play at a little bit different level, particularly offensively, and he’s been no exception.”
LeBron James, meanwhile, has been otherworldly. He is averaging 41.0 points, 12.0 rebounds and 8.3 assists and 1.7 steals in this series and has scored 123 points through three games – a Finals record.
“All of us expect LeBron to play great offense, and for these three games, he’s played great offense – (even though) it hasn’t been efficient offense,” Jackson said. “But he’s completely controlling the tempo of this series, and the way that he’s doing it is with isolation basketball, which, again, isn’t conventional, particularly in today’s game where you see more movement and fluidity in the game.”
James is also extending possessions late into the shot cock and getting to the foul line. He shot 10-of-12 from the stripe in Game 3. The entire Warriors team shot 7-of-12.
“What that all adds up to is a little bit slower-paced game where he’s shrinking possessions and controlling tempo,” Jackson said. “When you have that, you tend to get closer games, and in closer games, I’ve always felt if you have the best athlete or the best player on the floor in a close game, nine out of 10 times, you’re going to win that game. Because that player is going to make a play or score the basketball or make an athletic play that will make the difference between winning and losing – and that’s what he’s doing. It’s amazing, it’s intelligent, it just shows how much of a basketball savant he really is – and it’s great to watch. It really is art.”