Matthew Dellavedova had a relatively innocuous regular season for the Cleveland Cavaliers. In some games, he contributed nicely off the bench, hitting a 3-pointer there, grabbing a steal there. In other games, he looked like he didn’t belong on the court, dribbling a ball off his foot or airballing a floater in the lane. All of it turned Dellavedova into Delly, the nickname Cavs fans affectionately associate with the Australian native.
Dellavedova goes full throttle every second he’s on the court (it’s how he fought his way to the NBA), and his hustle is what endears him to the Cavs’ fanbase. But it’s that same hustle, under the microscope of the NBA Playoffs, that has gotten Dellevadova into hot water.
In three separate plays involving opponents—Taj Gibson, Kyle Korver and Al Horford—Dellavedova’s scrappiness annoyed his opponents to such a level that two of them were ejected for retaliating. In the third case, in which Dellavedova rolled onto Korver’s ankle while diving for a loose ball, the word “dirty” started to get thrown around. But is Delly dirty? Or is he just playing basketball the way he was taught? We think it’s the latter. Here are seven reasons why.
1. He played the same way in college, and no one really thought twice of it.
On a recent Cleveland radio sports talk show, ESPN NBA reporter Brian Windhorst addressed the notion that Delly crosses the line, making it known that this is how Dellavedova has always played. In college, when Dellavedova was the star of his St. Mary’s team, he went full throttle each and every game. The issue of “dirty” play never came up.
“I happen to know someone that played in Dellavedova’s conference when he was at St. Mary’s, and he said Dellavedova was a very fiesty player all the way throughout college, and it could be misconstrued as dirty,” Windorst said. “And he was a superstar in that conference. He was the Dwyane Wade of that conference. If he was a fiesty player when he was the best, you know he’s going to be a fiesty player when he’s just a role player.”
2. LeBron James passionately stood up for him
After Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, in which Al Horford was ejected for elbowing Delly in the head after the two went tumbling to the ground, James and Dellavedova sat side by side at the postgame podium. A reporter relayed the the information that DeMarre Carroll said in the locker room that a player should never dive at another player’s legs, in reference to Delly. After Delly defended himself, James, usually a calculated speaker, took a moment to emotionally defend his teammate.
“People are trying to give him a bad rap,” James said. “He doesn’t deserve it and I don’t like it.”
When LeBron speaks like that, people tend to listen.
3. His college coach wanted to build his team around Dellavedova because of his character
When St. Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett was recruiting Dellavedova out of Australia, it was Delly’s character that appealed to Bennett more than his game.
“He was pretty well put together when he got here. He had his values in order,” Bennett told ESPN in 2013. “One of the big reasons we liked him was because he was a rock, he was really solid, and we built our program around him because of that. Because of how solid he is, because of his character and because of his leadership.”
Sure doesn’t sound like someone who would spend his time on the court intentionally trying to injure somebody.
4. He was taught to play this way growing up in Australia
Hoopers in Australia are taught to treat the ball like a piece of gold. They want you to grab that thing and hold it close like Golem does The One Ring.
“In Australia you’re taught ‘body, body ball,'” Dellavedova’s former Australian team coach told Sports Illustrated. “Their body, your body, the ball. You’ve got to put your body between their body and the ball. The ball is sacred. He’s going after the ball with Korver, he’s boxing Horford out the other way. In regards of calling him dirty or trying to hurt people, it ain’t even close. It’s just a very unfair assessment, and he’s just got to continue to do what he does.”
5. The plays that led to the “dirty” allegations are conveniently ignored
Everyone likes to focus on the “leg lock” that Dellavedova put on Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson, but the events that led up to the play were just as bad on Gibson’s end.
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First, Gibson sets two uncalled illegal picks as Delly attempts to go around him to guard his man. Then, Gibson jabs his forearm into the back of Delly’s neck underneath the hoop, sending him flying to the ground.
In the second situation, Al Horford has Dellavedova’s arm locked up as he pulls him to the floor. Whether or not he took offense to Dellavedova’s physicality as the two were going down, the fact remains that if Horford doesn’t lock arms with Delly and pull him down, we aren’t even in this situation.
6. Andrew Bogut wanted the Golden State Warriors to sign Dellavedvoa
In 2013, Andrew Bogut lobbied Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers to sign Dellavedova when he became a free agent after going undrafted out of St. Mary’s. As a fellow Australian, Bogut was familiar with Delly and his style of play. The Warriors had already taken point guard Nemanja Nedovic in the draft and didn’t have a roster spot open for Dellavedova. Nedovic only lasted 24 games with Warriors.
7. His own words sum up exactly how he plays
When asked after Game 3 of the Cavs series with the Atlanta Hawks about the “dirty” plays in the series, Dellavedova summed up his mindset in two sentences.
“I saw the ball, I dived on the floor,” he said. “If I stay on my belly, it’s going to be a jump ball. So I protect the ball, and kick it out to a teammate. On the other one, I’m boxing him out and he’s pulling my left arm down.”
Read through that quote. “I saw the ball and dived on the floor.” “I’m boxing him out.” Delly isn’t focused on anything but the job at hand. Grab that loose ball. Box out the man behind you on the rebound.
Delly isn’t dirty. Case closed.
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