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Dellavedova's legend grows in Cleveland's gritty Game 3 win

Floor burns and all, the Cavaliers' hustling backup-turned-emergency starter has become their spiritual leader

POSTED: Jun 10, 2015 10:16 AM ET

By Shaun Powell

BY Shaun Powell

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Best of Phantom: Dellavedova Great in Game 3

Matthew Dellavedova scores 20 points and grabs five rebounds as the Cavaliers take Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

— The only way the Cavaliers could wrestle the lead in the NBA Finals away from a healthier, deeper and splashier Warriors team was to adopt the feisty mentality and personality of their spiritual leader:

Matthew Dellavedova?

Somewhat shocking that it would be him, yes. And equally so that the state of the championship series can be symbolized in one fourth-quarter floor burn that's freshly tattooed on the undrafted Australian. Actually, make that two.

The first burn: Delly drives down the lane past Stephen Curry, Cavs clinging to a one-point lead during a Warriors rally with 2 minutes and change left, drops a one-handed banker, gets hacked slightly, falls hard to the floor, completes the three-point play.

"That was a huge turning point," said Curry. "He made some timely baskets, and that was one of them."

Postgame: LeBron Praises Dellavedova

LeBron James talks about the Cavaliers toughing it out for the victory in Game 3.

The second burn: Delly chases down Curry from behind, pokes the ball lose during a trap, scrambles after it, dives on it, gets piled on, clutches the loose ball like his life depended on it, draws a foul with 51 seconds left.

Simply scorching. The last Aussie to captivate America in this manner was Crocodile Dundee, a fish out of water tale, and now here comes Delly, leaving his imprint on the series with loudly squeaking sneakers, taking up the slack caused by Kyrie Irving's injury, and energizing his team and the Quicken Loans Arena. Doesn't he seem a most unlikely factor and out of place himself? Suddenly, the Cavs are up 2-1 and the championship-starved city of Cleveland is halfway to sports nirvana, helped in large part by LeBron James of course but also a new folk hero who's hustling the Warriors.

He was so whipped that constant cramping sent him to the hospital for treatment hours after the game, although what's a little discomfort when it's caused by a potential series-changing victory?

He plays as hard as he can every day. He plays right. He's not afraid. He plays courageously. He's going to give you whatever he has and you can't ask for much more than that.

– David Blatt on Matthew Dellavedova

"He plays as hard as he can every day," said Cavs coach David Blatt. "He plays right. He's not afraid. He plays courageously. He's going to give you whatever he has and you can't ask for much more than that."

Delly was all over the floor Tuesday, keeping the clamps on Curry until the MVP finally turned spicy in the second half, and giving the much-needed offensive help that LeBron all but begged for in the first two games. Delly anxiously looked for his shot in a championship setting that often sees better players treat the ball like a hot potato. He scored 20 points, and if he can outscore Klay Thompson, don't you think the Cavs will win almost any time?

GameTime: Dellavedova's Defense

The GameTime crew discusses why Mathew Dellavedova's defense on Stephen Curry is so successful.

You might say Delly won't get anywhere near that point total for the rest of the series, and yet, so what? He did it this once and the Cavs won 96-91. Maybe the next game, J.R. Smith finally heats up. And then the next game, LeBron goes nuclear. Who knows?

Even if Delly's scoring takes a seat, the floor burn will always be there in some form. Did you see that D the Cavs put on Golden State in Game 3? Well, let's give a healthy salute to Blatt for that even if others refuse to credit the coach for anything. In a bottom-line business, Blatt is one-up on the lovable Steve Kerr and doing it without two injured All-Stars. Put any other coach in this position and he'd be slathered in bronze by now.

But defense is a byproduct of sweat and desire and aggression, which is another way of pronouncing Dellavedova. He once again hounded Curry, keeping him in check for 3 first-half points and forcing the Warriors to play catch-up after being down by 17.

"It's been remarkable," said Cavs forward Tristan Thompson. "He's going to come out and bust his tail, and it starts with defense. He tries to make whoever he's guarding feel uncomfortable and these are the little things that changes the game, changes the series."

Cavaliers On Game 3 Victory

David Blatt, Tristan Thompson, and LeBron James, discuss their Game 3 win over the Warriors.

The creation of the Dellavedova "legend" is getting a bit too thick for the Warriors and especially Curry, who seemed to indicate his poor shooting in this series was more a product of simple misfires. You got the sense that Curry simply had enough, turned on the jets in the second half and finally showed up in the Finals. That was the best sign for the Warriors as they walked off the court, that Curry might not have the same nightmare Finals that LeBron did in 2011 when nothing went right for King James against the Mavericks. You remember? LeBron couldn't post up or sink a jumper, and at one point in that series, the Mavericks put J.J. Barea on him, the ultimate face-slap.

Well. Blatt put Thompson on Curry for much of Game 3, which is the same, thing right? A 6-10 forward assigned to a quick dribble-master and daring Steph to be Steph again? Curry must've taken that personally. He erupted for 24 in the second half, 17 in the fourth quarter and late in the game had Cleveland fans seeing flashbacks to The Drive and The Shot and The Fumble. Especially after Curry dribbled past Delly, Iman Shumpert, Thompson and then sticking a 3-pointer in the face of Timofey Mozgov to bring Golden State to 84-81.

There was also a David Lee sighting, and a refreshing one for the Warriors. Lee had been buried on the bench all series, actually all season. Had Marreese Speights not missed a dunk in Game 2, Lee would still be collecting dust. But Kerr said what the heck, and Lee buzzed around the basket and managed 11 points in 13 minutes and completely changed the mood of the Warriors, who were sulking until then.

And so maybe the Warriors can take something into Thursday, a game they suddenly must have. Their small ball is their best lineup and Lee, who caught the Cavs by surprise, is more active than Andrew Bogut. Mainly, though, they'll cling to the perception that Curry has finally snapped out of a trance that had overtaken his body after he flipped and fell on his noggin nearly two weeks ago against the Rockets.

"He's the MVP of the NBA," said Kerr. "He's going to be all right."

Warriors On Game 3 Loss

Steve Kerr, David Lee, Andre Iguodala and Stephen Curry address the media following a Game 3 loss to the Cavaliers.

What about the Warriors? Well, they also trailed the Rockets 2-1 before taking over the series and so there's precedent. That said, there's an unexpected player they must deal with and figure out before the Cavs win two more games.

Delly isn't the most important player on the floor; that's quite obvious. He'd be a footnote if not for LeBron, who followed up games of 44 and 39 points with 40 in Game 3, and is on pace to possibly win MVP of the series even if the Cavs don't win the series, something only Jerry West pulled off.

But in order to win four games, even basketball superheroes need a trusty sidekick, someone they can rely on in a pinch, and the player who has volunteered for that assignment is probably still rubbing his red marks and squeezing the cramps from his body as you read this.

Matthew Dellavedova came to the Cavaliers as a foreign curiosity who played his way onto the team, then into the rotation, and is now pressed into the starting lineup because Irving is done. After three games of the NBA Finals, in the biggest basketball series on the planet, a guy who went undrafted has outplayed the league MVP.

That, of course, says a lot about how far in shooting hell Curry has fallen.

But let LeBron tell you what it also says about Dellavedova, and his seared limbs, and his influence on the Cavs so far:

"He's going to throw his body all over the place. It was great to have someone like that on the floor who was willing to sacrifice everything for the better of the team."

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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