OAKLAND, Calif. – If any team around the country should have understood the capability of Matthew Dellavedova in the clutch, it should have been the Warriors.
Dellavedova made quite a mark as a gritty gamer at Saint Mary's College — located 14 miles from Oakland — over four years. But he made an even more striking one at Oracle Arena on Sunday night, stepping in for injured All-Star Kyrie Irving.
Dellavedova scored only nine points, but he made the pivotal plays in overtime to preserve Cleveland's 95-93 victory over the Warriors in Game 2 of the NBA Finals.
After James Jones missed a 3-point jumper with 11.1 seconds left and the Cavaliers trailing by a point, Dellavedova crashed the boards, snatched an offensive rebound, drew a foul and confidently made two free throws that gave Cleveland the lead back.
Then, at the other end of the floor, he harassed the league MVP, Stephen Curry, into a bad miss with seven seconds to go, and the Warriors never got a better chance to finish it.
Dellavedova didn't have that great a stat line: 3-for-10 shooting (1-for-6 from three-point range), and he committed six turnovers. But he played Curry tough and made the kind of heady, scrappy plays he was known for at St.Mary's.
Not surprisingly, "Delly" was the toast of the Cavaliers locker room after another huge playoff performance in place of Irving, who is out for the rest of the Finals after having surgery to repair a fractured kneecap.
"He's unique in his own way," LeBron James said. "Obviously, he's a guy who's been counted out his whole life by people who've said he's too small, he's not fast enough, can't shoot enough, can't handle it good enough. He beat the odds so many times, and the confidence we have in him allows him to be confident in himself.
"He goes out and just plays his tail off, and a guy who does that gets great results."
Cleveland coach David Blatt was just as effusive about the second-year, 6-foot-4 Australian.
"You know, he did what he has been doing every time that we've put him in that position," Blatt said. "He's a courageous kid that plays right. There was a lot of nonsense swirling around about his style of play. I think anyone that looks at him objectively fairly recognizes someone that just plays hard, heartfelt, and tough basketball."
When the news came down about Irving on Friday, fewer people were giving the Cavs much of a chance in the series against the Warriors, who were already favored. And while Dellavedova had strong games in both the Chicago and Atlanta series victories, not many were giving him much of a chance to guard the sharpshooter Curry.
Dellavedova said he wasn't listening to any of the talk.
"I don't really pay attention to anything outside of the locker room because none of that stuff really matters," he said. "As for the motivation part, it's the NBA Finals, and if you need any extra motivation, you probably shouldn't be playing."
Dellavedova said the two clutch free throws didn't unnerve him.
"That's the classic thing you practice as a kid growing up, down one you need to make free throws," he said. "I feel like I've been in that situation many times before."
Dellavedova went into the challenge of guarding Curry knowing he wasn't going to win the battle every time.
"You just have to keep defending him and make it as hard as possible," he said.
Golden State coach Steve Kerr said he wasn't surprised by Dellavedova's play.
"Well, he's a good player," Kerr said. "They won a couple games against Atlanta without Kyrie, so this was no surprise."