Cleveland escaped with a close victory in overtime today, 114-111, putting the Hawks at a perilous 0-3 deficit, and the Cavaliers on the brink of a sweep.
Matthew Dellavedova stepped up to the plate once more, as Kyrie Irving was out with left knee tendinitis. Outside of LeBron James, he was the only other Cavalier that played 45 minutes or more. Delly had 17 points, and tied for second-highest points on the team alongside J.R Smith.
He also had a solid night when it came to three-point shooting, hitting 4 of his 9 shots (44.4%) from downtown, a fair jump above his 35.4% average this postseason. He also recorded 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 fouls and 4 turnovers this night.
The controversy begins once more
Delly's involvement in an Al Horford ejection became yet another unwelcome, controversial topic on a night that should have been about nothing else but competitive basketball.
During the closing seconds of the second quarter, Horford was attacking the basket, with Dellavedova in the way. The shot missed, and both players got tangled up while boxing out, causing Dellavedova to stumble over Hawks swingman DeMarre Carroll. Delly's momentum sent him crashing into Horford's knee, which resulted in the Atlanta big man collapsing on the Cavaliers guard.
According to lead official Ken Mauer (h/t Rachel Nichols), Dellavedova was whistled with a "liveball physical taunt technical foul" for his bump into Horford's knee. Horford's flagrant 2 and subsequent ejection was for making contact above the shoulders to Dellavedova.
If you watch the slow motion replay, it seems quite evident that Horford had dragged Dellavedova throughout the entire play, and Dellavedova affirmed the fact.
"I would obviously disagree w/that. I was boxing him out. You could see ... he was pulling my left arm down." Dellavedova, on 'track record'
— KL Chouinard Hawks (@AnaheimAmigos) May 25, 2015
LeBron James defended his teammate's hustle during the post-game conference, calling Dellavedova's play "a fundamental boxout", and also made a strong stand on his behalf.
“People are trying to give (Dellavedova) a bad rap, he doesn’t deserve it and I don’t like it… I will protect my guys for sure.” -LeBron
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) May 25, 2015
Of course, Horford has never been known to pull plays like these, and it's likely that he retaliated in kind on an act he perceived as a dirty play earlier. During a post-game interview, Al Horford admitted that he had viewed Delly's act as possibly being intentional, while discussing the call with the officials.
"I think he said something but in the heat of the moment, I told him ‘Listen, he went after my legs.’ That’s what I said to him. He went after my legs. If it was on purpose, we don’t know. Maybe it wasn’t on purpose. But with just his track record, I just felt like it was and, again, on my part very poor for doing that."
He did not however, view the incident as proof of malicious intent on Delly's side, but rather that the sophomore needed to learn that "guys look out for each other". Read between the lines, and you might see it as a word of warning, that other similar incidents might not be too far away.
DeMarre Carroll offered his take on the incident after the game (h/t CBS Sports):
"... I just seen Dellavedova diving. You know, he did it to Kyle. He's one of our starters and he gotta have surgery, he's out 4-6 months. And he did it to Al. I think Al said, 'Enough of this.' And he did what he did."
Delly is rapidly earning an unpleasant reputation for multiple incidents this playoffs, which has so far resulted in a severe ankle injury (loose ball dive on Kyle Korver) and two ejections (leg lock on Taj Gibson, today's incident with Al Horford).
Playing hard has gotten the man to where he is, and it's inconceivable that he should stop playing his brand of hard-nosed, physical basketball. Should Delly exercise caution in the games ahead, and think twice when getting into loose ball situations?