The Cleveland Cavaliers have been languishing through the early part of the 2018-19 season, attempting to stay afloat as post-LeBron reality takes full effect. Lottery-bound, downcast Cavaliers fans reacted with jubilation when cult hero Matthew Dellavedova was traded back to the city late last week.
The Australian point guard became an icon in Cleveland through his tenacious performances in the 2015 NBA Finals, where he was thrust into the spotlight for his defensive efforts on league MVP, Steph Curry.
Dellavedova would eventually become an NBA champion the following season, before eventually signing in Milwaukee on a lucrative deal, brought on by the success he had next to LeBron James.
Thursday morning was Delly's return to the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, as his new squad hosted the New York Knicks. Coming off a season-high 11 point effort against Milwaukee on Tuesday morning, Dellavedova checked in with 4:14 remaining in the first quarter to a standing ovation.
Following the game against Milwaukee, Dellavedova played down the difficulties of joining a new squad mid-season, insisting he's in perfect shape to contribute right away.
"I’ve been putting the work in even though I haven’t been playing so my game feels good my body feels good so after the last three days of travelling and being so busy it was good to just play," Dellavedova said.
It took just 39 seconds for his first basket to go down, a wide-open 3-point attempt dropping to a thunderous reaction. He would connect on another long range bomb before the first period came to a close, a first period that witnessed Cleveland running out to a 39-23 lead.
With 8:46 left in the first half, Dellavedova had drilled his third deep ball, and the Cavaliers had raced out to a 17-point lead. For a fleeting moment, the Q had an atmosphere reserved for times gone by, the crowd on their feet, actually enjoying the product on the floor.
Cleveland would eventually run out comfortable winners, closing out the Knicks, 113-106. The win improved the Cavs to 7-21 on the season.
Dellavedova would finish with a season-high 15 points on 4-for-7 shooting, while adding four rebounds and three assists. The 15 points was Dellavedova's highest point total in a regular season game since he dropped 15 for the Bucks in Boston, on October 18, 2017.
Capping the return was two free throws to ice the game late in the fourth quarter. Dellavedova would make both attempts, giving Cleveland a five point lead with just 11 seconds left on the clock. Naturally, the Cavaliers faithful showered Delly with MVP chants while he stood at the line.
Cleveland big man Larry Nance Jr played up to the crowd, egging them on by waving his arms as the MVP chant grew. It's safe to say, Dellavedova wasn't the biggest fan of his teammates enthusiasm.
"He needs to stop that," Dellavedova said with a laugh via ESPN. "He's fun to play with, but he needs to stop that."
An increased role was expected post-trade, and the early returns are only confirming those initial projections, with Dellevedova averaging 18 minutes over his first two contests, well above the 8.1 minutes he was receiving in Milwaukee -- on the nights that he actually played.
Cleveland coach Larry Drew intends to keep playing the Australian, speaking on the positive impact he's had on the young group post-game, while being wary of going too-hard-too-early with the seldom used guard.
"He did a terrific job," Cavaliers coach Larry Drew said. "He really hasn't been playing so we don't want to burn him out early. He brings so many intangibles and things we need as a team."
Funnily enough, Cleveland will once again square off with Thon Maker and the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday morning, this time at the Q, giving Dellavedova a chance to get one back on his former squad.
Next up: Cleveland face Milwaukee on Saturday morning - Tip-off is at 11:30am (AEST)