During a series that has squashed conventional wisdom in every conceivable way, it's only right that Cleveland Cavaliers point guard and backcourt safety valve Matthew Dellavedova has played his way into the national spotlight alongside LeBron James.
As the Cavaliers took a 2-1 series lead with a 96-91 Game 3 victory Tuesday night, Dellavedova scored a playoff career-high 20 points (7-of-17 shooting, 2-of-6 from three) while dropping four dimes and hitting the floor countless times as he relentlessly pursued loose balls in ways the Golden State Warriors simply could not.
"He's made of steel, or something," James said after the win during his on-court interview with ESPN's Doris Burke. "If there's a ball on the ground, he's going to be the first guy to the ground. He showed up multiple times tonight. He's huge. He's huge for our team. He gives us that grit, that grit that we need. He gives us everything until the tank is empty, and he has a small little reserve tank that he continues to work through. He's huge for us.”
Cleveland's unsung hero has been so committed to securing the rock that it may be time to re-evaluate some age-old definitions when he's diving on the floor, according to Synergy Sports Technology:
In addition to out-hustling every member of the Warriors' backcourt, Delly was sensational supplementing James' second 40-point outing in three games, as NBA.com laid out following the win:
His circus bank shot with just under 2:30 remaining in the fourth quarter capped an unforgettable night, and to Stephen Curry, it represented a "huge turning point," as the Warriors threatened to make yet another comeback, according to CBS Sports NBA.
As the folks at NBA on ESPN noted, the Cavaliers' odd couple did just about everything on a night when James approached yet another triple-double by tacking on 12 rebounds, eight assists, four steals and two blocks to his final line:
Just as they have all series, the Cavaliers embraced a more physical style in order to disrupt the Warriors' free-flowing offense. And the man at the forefront of that havoc was Dellavedova, who now leads all Cavaliers players with a defensive rating of 92.8 in the Finals.
"He plays as hard as he can every day," Cavaliers head coach David Blatt told reporters during his postgame press conference, according to the team's official Twitter account. "He plays right. He's not afraid. He plays courageously."
Dellavedova plays so hard, in fact, that he was transported to the Cleveland Clinic after the game to undergo treatment for severe cramps, according to the team.
Although Curry caught fire late and forced the Cavs to sweat things out again—seriously, what else did you expect after Games 1 and 2?—he was still forced into a game-high six turnovers while scoring 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting (7-of-13 from three). Curry and Klay Thompson combined to score 41 points Tuesday night—19 less than James and Dellavedova.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, the undrafted Aussie guarded Curry like no other Cavaliers player could in Game 3:
If all of this feels mind-numbing, don't worry. It should.
Cleveland rode into the playoffs on James' shoulders with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love functioning as his primary complements. Despite never sniffing the postseason stage before, the other two members of the Cavaliers' superstar triumvirate appeared primed to prove their worth.
Dellavedova was an afterthought.
He averaged just over 20 minutes during the regular season and never topped 20 points in a single game. For goodness sake, the guy scored in double-figures a grand total of nine times over the course of 67 appearances. But in 17 postseason contests, he's topped 10 points on six different occasions—including four of his last six games.
"Dellavedova has come a long way," Northeast Ohio Media Group's Chris Fedor wrote. "He's been written off numerous times and looked destined for the same fate in the Finals following nine dreadful minutes in Game 1. The Warriors' athleticism looked to be too much and the stage too big."
By sheer injury-induced happenstance, Dellavedova has emerged as a worthy sidekick to James during a series that has been dictated by Cleveland's strength and size. While Irving's fractured left kneecap once looked like a death sentence for a team that was already without Love's ability to space the floor, Dellavedova has been a strange yet effective solution on both ends of the floor.
In 26 minutes over the last three games, the five-man unit of Dellavedova, Shumpert, James, Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov has limited the Warriors to 89 points per 100 possessions. That's the regular season's most prolific offense, and the Cavaliers have suddenly concocted a formula to shut it down behind Dellavedova's relentless on- and off-ball defense.
Cleveland's offense may still be too stagnant and overreliant on isolations for James on the weak side of the floor, but it hasn't mattered. The defense has been brilliant, and James has shouldered the offensive load by scoring 123 points—the most of any player in Finals history through three games.
Quite frankly, it's fitting this is the route Cleveland's taking, because this series has defied logic in just about every way.
The Cavaliers have done a stylistic 180 in a matter of moments, moving from an open, free-flowing approach to a physically imposing one. And as a result, Dellavedova has mutated into a decisive component on a team that's improbably two wins away from a championship.
Alec Nathan covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @AlecBNathan.