The Cavs are on the verge of reaching their first Finals appearance in eight years.
Many people thought they would be in this very position before the season started. It’s hard not to think a team with Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and Kevin Love could be within four games of a conference championship, even in their first year playing together.
The Cavs brought in vets with championship pedigree throughout the season. Players like Mike Miller, James Jones, and Shawn Marion were expected to help guide this overall young and inexperienced team through tough moments and be leaned upon in do-or-die situations.
However, many of these players were nowhere near as impactful in this year’s playoffs as most expected for different reasons.
Miller and Marion proved to be way past their prime, too much so to even contribute in the playoffs to this point. Love’s season ended in game four of the first round due to a dislocated shoulder. And Kyrie has dealt with knee and foot issues during the Bulls series.
The Cavs needed guys to step up in a big way.
That’s why the bench play of a guy like Matthew Dellavedova was and is so important, especially after facing a rough-you-up Chicago Bulls team.
Obviously, as more players get injured, the more important a team’s depth is. The “next man up” approach and trust in those replacements is arguably equally as important. With the conclusion of the Eastern Conference semis, it seems as if Delly has earned the trust of this teammates, and for good reason.
Some can’t explain why or how Matthew Dellavedova is still around in the NBA, even in his second year and performing well on the biggest stage of his basketball career. Yes, even bigger than this.
I personally have been up and down on Delly throughout his short career, with far more ups. I tend to gravitate towards players like him, who don’t seem to have the necessary talent to be effective but make up for it with an incredible amount of hustle.
At some point in the season, it came to a point where I uttered the phrase “I’m not willing to die on the Delly hill anymore.” I can safely say that I’ve climbed back up on that hill and have re-planted my flag. Delly is awesome again.
He had some cool moments in his rookie year, including a 21-point game (5-7 from 3) late in the season in Detroit when the Cavs were technically still in the playoff hunt (shout out to Dion Waiters). He also successfully guarded the likes of Bradley Beal and Kevin Durant for stretches.
But none of those enlightening moments came in a game with as much importance as any of the Bulls games in round two.
Delly’s defense isn’t all-world by any means, but there are these incredible spurts where his man just can’t seem to shake him. Just ask Derrick Rose.
Rose was held to just 1-4 in the fourth quarter of game six last Thursday. And while many factors go into that, it was Delly who was asked guard him for the majority of the half after Irving was sidelined. It’s also worth noting that Delly played every second of that second half. That in and of itself is quite honorable given the magnitude of the game.
Delly is willing to do the dirty work, too. You may remember him guarding Dirk Nowitzki earlier this year in preseason. Well, he’s still ungrudgingly able to guard 7-footers.
As you can see, Delly switches onto Pau Gasol while Thompson switches onto Rose. This is something the Cavs love doing with Thompson on defense. Having a guard like Delly that will do anything no questions asked on defense and can actually be decent at it is good for the Cavs.
Delly and Tristan have also created an ungodly amount of chemistry on offense, specifically on pick-and-rolls. I’m not going to show a Vine of it here because you have already seen one with those two; Delly lobbing it and Tristan throwing it down. Seriously, it has to happen at least once a game. Those are the rules.
And while Delly has looked like a PnR artist, he hasn’t always been that smooth with it this year. Many times when the roller was heavily covered, Delly just did not know what to do with the ball. He was indecisive and it usually led to a bad shot or a turnover.
This is from January 28 against Portland. Thompson gets stuck on the screen and once Delly sees he’s not where he wants him to be, he panics, jumps without a plan, and throws it away. (And really, that’s also a product of trying to have Marion stretch that side of the court).
Now we’re seeing less of that and more decisiveness from Delly, almost as if he knows what he’s doing. And the great thing is, he’s doing it when it really matters, as in potential-series-clinching-games-with-the-All-Star-point-guard-nursing-an-injury matters.
I didn’t even mention that Delly shot 42.9% from 3-point land in the Bulls series. It was much needed and magnificent to watch.
Deep into the night on Tuesday (technically Wednesday morning), ESPN’s Dave McMenamin penned an excellent article on the relationship between Delly and Irving. As McMenamin noted, unknown to many, they had a rocky relationship at the start of Delly’s rookie campaign, almost leading to fights in practices. Eventually, however, the two started to respect one another, as Tristan Thompson explained.
“Probably the first three months of the season he was irritated by Delly,” Thompson said, “but he realized Delly is not going to stop and it was going to make him a better player.”
In a matter of a couple seasons, Delly went from a guy I thought could’ve gone down in Cavaliers infamy with the likes of Omri Casspi, Semih Erden, Christian Eyenga, and Manny Harris – the random players on dreadful Cavaliers teams – to an important part of a championship caliber team who commands the respect of James Jones, David Blatt, and, most impressively, LeBron James.
He makes plays that force people to rip their hair out. He’s one of, if not the most unorthodox looking players in the league. Nothing about him stands out until you hear him talk. But he has a world of intangibles.
“Heart, man,” [James] Jones said. “On this team, Delly embodies all heart, all hustle and all the work.”
I don’t care if that’s cliché. I don’t care if someone doesn’t think that Dellavedova’s heart and effort don’t matter. Delly is talked about how Anderson Varejao was talked about eight years ago. And despite multiple severe injuries, the Cavs have opted to keep him around for 11 years now.Sometimes we just have to accept that some players just outwork others. And while those players aren’t as blessed with the same natural talent of a LeBron James (who also puts in the work), it’s the rare level of intangibles that keep them in the game.
Heading into the ECF, I think the Aussie will break out some more Peanut Butter Delly time. He’s rarely a good on-paper matchup for the Cavs, but I think he’s proven enough times that “on paper” doesn’t always translate to on-court performance.