You will find no postgame quotes from unlikely finals hero Matthew Dellavedova. Rather than making it to the interview room for his scheduled podium appearance, Dellavedova received an IV the locker room, walked out to the parking garage, hopped on a stretcher and was loaded into an ambulance and taken to the Cleveland Clinic.
Dellavedova was treated for what the Cavaliers described as “severe cramping,” and the team is expected to give an update on his status later today. Cramping would not be a huge surprise—Dellavedova played 39 minutes, more than double his career average—and beyond even the exertions brought on by guarding Steph Curry and scoring 20 points, he at the very least had to pick himself up off the floor more than any other player.
“I know one thing I’m going to count on Delly is how hard he’s going to play,” LeBron James said. “He’s going to give everything he’s got. His body, he’s going to throw his body all over the place. And he’s going to compete at a high level however many minutes he’s out on the floor. Tonight it was 38 and a half minutes and for 38 and a half minutes he gave everything he’s got. It was great to have someone like that out on the floor that was willing to sacrifice everything for the better of the team.”
Dellavedova played the game of his life (so far), keeping Curry bottled through three quarters, and for once also being asked to shoulder some of the offense out of sheer necessity. He responded with some incredible shooting, and some business that had no business being successful.
It didn’t make any sense. None of this makes any sense. This series is drunk. And it’s been wonderful, a thrilling accident best captured by the unlikely fact that Dellavedova is even playing, let alone 39 minutes and taking clutch shots down the stretch. None of these guys should be playing. If the Cavs win this series, the Hall of Fame should probably just start working on a 100-foot-high LeBron James statue that breathes fire.
We expected a finals mismatch. We got one, but it turned out to be in style, not in quality. If Kyrie Irving is healthy (and sure, why not, Kevin Love too), the Cavaliers offense wouldn’t be so creatively restricted. They’d be taking shots to match the Warriors, and then giving up corresponding chances on the other end. That’s exactly what the Warriors would want, and I’d posit that if Irving were still in this series, the Cavs wouldn’t be leading it.
Each player who’s gone down this season has been replaced by someone less offensively gifted but more able and willing to implement David Blatt’s particular brand of high-energy defense. It’s a trade-off that doesn’t always work, but this was absolutely the matchup for it. Golden State loves nothing better than to sucker its opponents into a shootout, and even with Love and Irving, that was a game the Cavaliers weren’t going to win. Instead, and wholly out of necessity, Cleveland has turned these into half-court games on both sides of the court, the LeBron iso offense setting up the prepared and swarming D. The Warriors are a no-shit great team, coming off a historically great-shooting season, and not a single team in the NBA in 2015 could hang with them. It simply turned out that someone needed to play a messy ‘90s slowdown style.
This may be entirely unsustainable. You could see exhaustion set in during Golden State’s late-game comeback; it’s no coincidence that Curry went 5-for-8 from three in the fourth, just as Dellavedova’s cramps were setting in. LeBron James has been on the court for 142 minutes through three games. The longer J.R. Smith is asked to contribute, the more chances he has to ruin things. The longer this series goes, the more it favors the Warriors finding their touch and the Cavaliers wilting under fatigue. So we will ride it as long as we can, because it is one of the unlikeliest stories the NBA has had to offer in years. It’s a throwback story, at heart, to a little-loved but fondly remembered era of aggressively defensive basketball, and perhaps a preview of a time not so long off when the leaguewide pendulum swings back that way. It’s also become, astonishingly, an underdog story. For LeBron to somehow manage that might be his greatest achievement.