WHEN CLEVELAND Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova went to the foul line with 10.1 seconds of overtime remaining in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night, 76ers coach Brett Brown saw a look he has become very familiar with through the years.
"He bit down on that mouthpiece, grabbed the ball from the ref and bam, bam. He nailed both of them without any hesitation," said Brown, sounding a bit like a fan, more like a proud father.
Dellavedova's two makes gave the Cavaliers a 94-93 lead in what eventually turned into a 95-93 win, evening the series with the Golden State Warriors at one game each. The series will move to Cleveland tonight for Game 3.
As much as Dellavedova's free throws helped secure the win, it was his presence on the defensive end that shifted at least some of the conversation away from LeBron James, who has carried the injury-riddled Cavaliers through the first two games of the series.
Starting at the point for the injured Kyrie Irving, Dellavedova limited reigning MVP Stephen Curry to 5-for-23 shooting, including 2-for-15 from three and only 19 points in the win. Think of all the phrases you hear about a defender being all over an offensive player, and Dellavedova was that.
The Brown-Dellavedova relationship goes back a long way, when the two crossed paths in Australia. Dellavedova is from Maryborough, Australia, about an hour away from where Brown's wife grew up. Brown, of course, has coached most of his adult life in Australia, including being at the helm of the Olympic team that competed in London in 2012, with Dellavedova as the point guard.
"The first time I saw him was in 2009 and, I don't mean this as an insult at all, but he had this Neanderthal approach, an ass-kicker," said Brown. "He was [Jack] Dempsey in a ring, not [Muhammad] Ali. A street fighter and a gritty one and it wasn't pretty. He certainly never boasted extreme athleticism. When you saw him in his young ages, you had an immediate attraction to his toughness and a curiosity and uncertainty about where he would end up.
"I coached him in 2009 and brought him in in 2010 for a tryout for World Championships in Istanbul and had to cut him. To this day, he's the single most difficult person I had to cut, and I have cut many, many, many players. He was so passionate and determined to play for his country and worked so hard to earn that right, and I took it from him. I released him. To look at the expression on his face, it was evident how much pain he was in."
In the meantime, Dellavedova was in the process of putting together quite a college career at Saint Mary's in California, ultimately becoming the school leader in scoring, assists and games played. But the passion to play for his country never left the rugged guard, and his and Brown's paths crossed.
"In 2011, we started gearing up for the Olympics and there he was again," Brown said. "He's one of those players that refused to go away. If we had multiple training camps or had to come back quickly from Saint Mary's, he would do that. His background is blue-collar, farming, that part of Australia. In 2012, we get ready to select the Olympic team and he makes it. How I'm going to use him, I'm not sure. He was the backup to Patty Mills at point guard. Two weeks before a game against Brazil in London, I push Patty to the '2' and let him score, and he went on to lead the London Olympics in scoring. We gave Delly the ball and named him our starting point guard.
"The path that I've seen him take since 2009 to now, being a major reason that Cleveland is tied in the NBA Finals, is an incredibly deep story and one that resonates with me personally because I've seen the work that he has put in. You see the doubters who gave him zero shot."
So good was Dellavedova on Sunday that James, who has scored 83 points, grabbed 24 rebounds and dealt 17 assists in the two games, said: "It had everything to do with Delly. He just kept a body on Steph. He made Steph work. He was spectacular, man, defensively. We needed everything from him."
Brown knows that Dellavedova doesn't change what he will give you - everything. But he insists there is more to the player than just that Australian toughness.
"It's more than that, there's a technical side and a studied side that all collide under the roof of toughness to produce a gifted and elite defender," Brown said. "Look at him move his feet and contest Steph Curry at the end of the game. He shows his hands to refs and uses his chest better than any player I've seen. There is such a grittiness that when he does get switched out, he can swim somebody and front them and keep using his backside and arms to bother bigger players. It's just a wonderful story."
One that keeps growing. During the All-Star weekend in New York in February, Dellavedova competed in the Rising Stars game, which pits first- and second-year players against one another. As he was walking in the hallways off the court, two young fans asked for his autograph. He politely obliged. As he walked away, one boy looked at the other and asked "Who was that?" The other responded: "I don't know, but he plays for Cleveland, so he plays with LeBron."
Many more know Matthew Dellavedova now.