OAKLAND -– After his uber-effort in Game 2, the last thing Matthew Dellavedova had to worry about Sunday night was the Cavaliers bus leaving without him.
LeBron James was LeBron James on Sunday night, as the Cavaliers pulled even with the Warriors at one game apiece at Oracle Arena despite losing All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving in the opener to a fractured kneecap.
But without Dellavedova’s relentless defense on league MVP Stephen Curry and his two free throws with :10.1 seconds remaining after sneaking into the paint for an offensive rebound, it might have gone down as another game in which James came up short.
James had a triple-double with 39 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists, as the Cavaliers recorded their first victory in an NBA Finals game with a 95-93 victory in overtime.
And, now, the series heads to Cleveland for Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Thursday.
“Obviously, he’s a guy that’s been counted out his whole life,” James said of Dellavedova, an undrafted second-year player from Saint Mary’s. “Probably people have been telling him he’s too small, he’s not fast enough, can’t shoot enough, can’t handle it good enough. And he’s beat the odds so many times.
“The confidence that we have in him allows him to be confident in himself. He goes out there and he just plays his tail off, and when a guy like that does that, he gets great results.”
The results for Curry were shocking.
Curry made just 5-of-23 field-goal attempts, and was 2-of-15 behind the three-point line. Dellavedova was not on him the whole time, but Curry did not make a shot from the perimeter while Dellavedova guarded him.
“It had everything to do with Delly,” James said. “He just kept a body on Steph. He made Steph work. He was spectacular, man.”
Dellavedova played just nine scoreless minutes on Thursday when the Warriors pulled away for the overtime victory in Game 1. He was such a forgotten man, that he had to summon Uber for a ride back to the team hotel in San Francisco after the team bus left him behind.
On Sunday, he started for the third time in the postseason after Irving underwent playoff-ending surgery on Saturday. The Cavaliers improved to 3-0 in games in which Irving missed due to injuries.
“He did what he has been doing every time that we’ve put him in that position,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said. “He’s a courageous kid that plays right. There was a lot of nonsense swirling around about his style of play. I think anyone that really looks at him objectively and fairly recognizes someone that just plays hard, heartfelt, and tough basketball.”
Dellavedova’s stat line was certainly pedestrian in comparison to James’ night. Dellavedova scored nine points – all after the third quarter -- and grabbed five rebounds and three steals.
His biggest play of the night came when he got past Klay Thompson to get into position for a tip-back off a James Jones missed 3-point attempt with the Warriors leading 93-92 in overtime.
After Harrison Barnes was called for the foul on Dellavedova, the Australian went to the line and knocked down both free throws to give the Cavs a 94-93 lead.
“That is a classic thing you practice as a kid growing up,” said Dellavedova, whose parents entered the post-game press conference and watched his session with reporters from the back of the room. “Down one, you need to make both free throws. So I felt like I've been in that situation a million times before.”
On the other end, Curry air-balled a 19-footer -- with Dellavedova closely guarding him -- and James secured the rebound. James made one of two free throws with 4.4 seconds remaining. Curry turned the ball over after the in-bounds pass and the Warriors could not even get off a desperation shot.
The Cavaliers shot just 32.6 percent from the floor – the lowest figure for a team to win a road game in the NBA Finals in the shot-clock era.
“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, cute basketball, than that’s not us.”
For the ninth consecutive time, James’ team has won a Game 2 of a playoff series after losing the first game. Just like in the opener, James had the ball in his hands with a chance to win the game in regulation.
This time, he drove to the basket in the closing seconds but got a good look at a left-handed layup with three defenders on him. The ball rolled off the rim to set up another overtime after the Warriors outscored Cleveland 15-4 in the final three minutes of regulation.
But, this time, the Cavaliers found a way to win – despite missing seven of their eight shots in the extra five minutes.
“We’re undermanned,” James said. “I don’t know any other team in this league that would be able to do that, to be able to be without two All-Stars on their team and compete the way we compete and be a force.”