If anybody knows about capitalizing on playoff opportunities its Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, whose lethal shooting as a role player was a vital weapon in Michael Jordan’s quest for six championship and Tim Duncan’s early journey to five shiny balls in the 90s and 2000s.
To see unheralded international combo guard Matthew Dellavedova lift Cleveland to a 96-91 victory over Golden State in Game 3 of the NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena by asserting himself on offense, going dirt monger on defense and providing a much-needed No. 2 scoring option to LeBron James’ Herculean effort (40 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists) must have given Kerr flashbacks. Kerr knows a thing or two about doing the "little things" come playoff time that leads to championships. On Tuesday night, he was a victim of his own medicine as Dellavedova's key playoff punches gave the pugnacious Cavs a shocking 2-1 series lead over the 67-win Warriors
Kerr is a 5-time NBA champion, winning three championships with the Chicago Bulls and two with the San Antonio Spurs. Kerr shot 45.4% from 3-point range over his career which is the highest in NBA history for any player with at least 2,000 shot attempts.
Kerr understood everything Dellavedova felt after dropping 20 points and hustling hard on defense in an effort to continue limiting Steph Curry’s aerial magnificence. Curry finished with 27 points on 10 of 20 shooting (seven of 13 from three-point range), but he had just three points at halftime. He came on strong late, though, hitting a three-pointer with 27.9 seconds left in regulation to cut the Cavs' lead to four (92-88). He did it again at the 18.8-second mark, hitting a falling three from the left wing over Timofey Mozgov's outstretched arm to get the Warriors within three (94-91). Thanks to the All-Star performance by a pretty regular guard, Curry’s late onslaught fell short.
Early in the game, LeBron had passed out of a double team to Dellavedova, who was open for a three but hesitated to take the shot, then when he took it he didn’t shoot it with confidence and it was off. The cameras showed LeBron giving him hell for being hesitant and imploring the 6-foot-4 guard, who has gone from obscurity to NBA finals star, to shoot. That was all of the confidence Dellavedova needed and for the remainder of the game he played like a man possessed.
Kerr didn’t take a lot of shots or put up huge numbers. In fact, he really wasn’t counted on offensively, except when his squad needed that crucial three-pointer or hustle play. Superstars of Jordan’s ilk don’t defer to mortals too often, but when your skill set fits the moment, you better be ready to deliver and Kerr always did. Like Dellavedova did on Tuesday night. Therefore, he is remembered favorably by NBA fans as a champion and a clutch performer whose heart and skill always shined brightest under playoff pressure.
All Kerr the head coach could do was shake his head and trip down memory lane. As a player, he became a legendary piece in championship puzzles that featured Micheal Jordan and then Tim Duncan by giving unexpected Delladova-type performances.
Dellavedova came to Cleveland as an unheralded and undrafted guard out of Australia. Born and raised in Maryborough, Victoria, Dellavedova began balling at age four. He attended Maryborough Regional College and played junior basketball for the Maryborough Blazers and Bendigo Braves. Along with basketball, he played Australian Rules football at the junior level but eventually gave that up to pursue his hoop dreams.
In 2007, he moved to Canberra to attend the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) where he spent three years playing in the South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL). Like Kerr, Dellavedova wasn’t highly recruited. He attended Saint Mary's College of California in 2009 and signed with the Gaels before the 2009–10 season. He was ranked one of the top junior players in Australia; ESPN.com rated Dellavedova as the No. 73 shooting guard recruit for the 2008–09 recruiting season. Dellavedova was a beast starting each of the first 15 games of the season for the team and during the 2009–10 season he flexed his versatility averaging 12.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.
In 2012–13, Dellavedova, an Academic All-America selection finished his college career as Saint Mary's all-time leader in scoring, assists, games played, free throw percentage and three-point shots. While he may have been overlooked by NBA scouts, St. Mary's retired his jersey in February 2014. His No. 4 was just the second retired by the school's men's basketball program.
Despite his college success Dellavedova was undrafted in 2013 and joined the Cleveland Cavaliers for the 2013 NBA Summer League. On September 12th, 2013, he signed a two-year, $1.3 million contract with the Cavaliers and in March of 2014, he had his breakout NBA game, scoring 21 points and 6 assists in a 97-96 win over the Detroit Pistons.
Dellavedova has proved he belongs in the NBA, but he wasn’t on anyone’s radar as far as killer guards go. He was another international face trying to hang on in The League. That was until the Cavs Dream Team became riddled with injuries and their best laid plans fell apart like the Nigerian family structure during slave trade.
LeBron James’ theory of, “Next Man Up” sounded good at the time, but no one picked Cleveland to defeat Golden State short two All-Star players in Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. It’s now obvious that they were sleeping on Dellavedova’s gangster. The Australian baller is proving to be a reliable wing man to LBJ and his defensive effort and relentless aggression have helped slow down Golden State’s high-flying, sharp-shooting machine.
The NBA Playoffs don’t only magnify the accomplishments and failures of mega stars. The dynamics of the competition leaves room for the unsuspecting contributions of those unheralded players who have the clutch gene, but never get a chance to floss it on a national scale. Years from now when Dellavedova, just 24-years of age, reflects on his NBA career, he will refer to Game 3 of the 2015 NBA Finals as the moment that cemented his considerable worth as an NBA player. The narrative now switches to how many other championship tricks he has up his sleeve and how good of a“poor man’s Manu Ginobili” he can continue to be for The King.