Buoyed by 'Delly,' Cavs are beating the odds

OAKLAND, Calif. -- He is the league's reigning MVP and none other than Steve Nash floated the idea last week that he may even be the greatest shooter in the history of the NBA.

Yet, while playing at home, with a chance to grab a vice-like 2-0 grip on the NBA Finals with a win in Game 2 on Sunday, Stephen Curry shot 0-for-8 and coughed up four turnovers when being defended by a previously undrafted Australian who had to take an Uber back to the hotel after Game 1 because the team bus left without him.

Yes, Curry is just the latest character to play a part in the growing legend of Matthew Dellavedova. And the Cleveland Cavaliers' improbable next-man-up push through the postseason withstood yet another challenge in its first test since Kyrie Irving went down for good with season-ending surgery on his fractured kneecap with a 95-93 overtime victory to even their series with the Warriors.

How are the Cavs just three wins away from snapping a half-century long title-less streak for Cleveland pro sports with not just one All-Star-caliber player in Irving, but a second in Kevin Love, sidelined with injuries? Because as much as this Cavs team is defined by LeBron James' brilliance, it has also taken on the persona of Dellavedova: Impossible to dismiss no matter how challenging the circumstances might be.

"Obviously he's a guy that's been counted out his whole life," James said after having his 39 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists not go to waste in large part because of one late offensive rebound followed by two free throws by Dellavedova. "Probably people have been telling him he's too small, he's not fast enough, can't shoot it enough, can't handle it enough and he's beat the odds so many times."

These Cavs, who have been told they are too weak of a defensive team, too isolation-heavy of an offensive group, too shallow of a talent pool to go all the way, are beating the odds right along with him.

"All that writing off and underdog title and little chances, that's a good thing," Cavs coach David Blatt said. "This team has nothing on their mind but trying to win the championship. And the fact that Kyrie went down, the fact that Kevin went down earlier has not changed our resolve in any way, has not caused us to look for some particular break or sympathy because it's not coming."

These Cavs are willing themselves through bad break after bad break the same way Dellavedova willed himself behind Klay Thompson to get his hands on the ball off a missed 3-pointer by James Jones with 10.1 seconds left in overtime.

But it's not just endless effort and hustle. It's skill and execution, too. Dellavedova didn't just grab the rebound while getting fouled by Harrison Barnes coming over his back, he made both ensuing free throws and turned a one-point deficit into a one-point lead.

"I mean, that is a classic thing you practice as a kid growing up: Down one, you need to make both free throws. So I felt like I've been in that situation a million times before," Dellavedova said.

Hearing what his teammates were thinking when Dellavedova went to the line makes you feel like they were there with him when he was just a kid in his driveway putting up those million attempts.

"He was very calm," James said.

"Ice," Jones said.

"I wasn't worried," Tristan Thompson said.

"He's butter. I knew he was making them," Kendrick Perkins said.

It's a symbiotic relationship at this point between Dellavedova and the rest of his team. "The confidence that we have in him allows him to be confident in himself," James said.

And the fight that Dellavedova shows time and time again -- yes, that was Delly diving to the floor for a loose ball to save Cleveland a possession late in the game the same way he did it against Atlanta and was criticized for it -- compels his teammates to fight right along with him.

"When he's working his tail off and picking up 94 feet, you got to do nothing but pick up your socks and do the same thing," Thompson said. "He's busting his tail every possession. You can't come out there and B.S. around. You got to come out and do the same thing."

As "Delly" has become a household name, the Cavs have been simultaneously stripped of their Big Three spoils. Dellavedova embodies the type of team Cleveland has become.

"It's the grit squad that we have," James said. "It's not cute at all. If you're looking for us to play sexy, cut basketball, then that's not us. That's not us right now. Everything is tough."

Dellavedova would never be accused of having a sexy game. Even his final line in Game 2 -- nine points on 3-for-10 shooting (including 1-for-6 from 3-point territory), five rebounds, three steals and one assist against six turnovers is almost cringe inducing -- but there is beauty in his sheer determination.

"He's keeping us alive and putting us on his back, his 6-foot-3 back, and carrying the team," Thompson said.

"Man, look, Delly is, I'm telling you, he done grew to be one of my favorite players," Perkins said.

"What he doesn't have in athletic ability, he makes up for it with smarts and heart," Brendan Haywood said.

Maybe it should be old hat by now. After all, the Cavs' Game 2 was actually Dellavedova's third "podium game" of the playoffs. There was also, of course, his 19 points in the Cavs' closeout game in Chicago in the second round, in a series in which Derrick Rose shot just 7-for-22 when being guarded by Dellavedova. There was his 17 points in the Cavs' Game 3 overtime win over Atlanta in the conference finals, in a series in which Jeff Teague shot it even worse -- 9-for-32 -- with Dellavedova on him.

Curry finished 5-for-23 overall and 2-for-15 from 3-point territory in Game 2.

"It had everything to do with Delly," James said. "He just kept a body on Steph. He made Steph work. He was spectacular, man, defensively. We needed everything from him."

Dellavedova is giving the Cavs everything he has got, and in turn the Cavs are giving the Warriors all they can handle so far in what was billed as a lopsided NBA Finals that has turned into a heck of a series already.

"I think as a team we have a collective confidence that we can still win and still get the job done," Dellavedova said.