It's been an incredibly frustrating season for Matthew Dellavedova, who has suffered through two separate injuries that kept him out for lengthy periods of time. First it was a knee injury that kept him out for 15 games earlier in the season, before a severe ankle sprain forced him off the court for 29 games, only allowing him to return for ten minutes in the regular season finale against Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers.
A permanent fixture in the Milwaukee rotation since joining the roster before the 2016/17 season, his role on the team was suddenly in question, as a lack of preparation became a concern for head coach Joe Prunty. Dellavedova did not play in the Bucks overtime loss in Game 1, and The Pick and Roll asked Prunty about his lack of court time heading into the playoffs.
"We would've loved to have had more game time, one game is not a lot," Prunty said. "He’s worked extremely hard, brings a ton to the table in terms of experience, knowledge, corporate knowledge of what we do. He’s another one these guys that needs to be ready.”
Dellavedova did see the floor that night in Game 2, though it was a rather inconspicuous 4:34 of court time, in which he didn't offer a shot, assisted just one basket and committed one turnover. The Bucks were blown out, and trailed Boston 0-2 in the series. Prunty knew it was time to make adjustments as the contest moved to Milwaukee.
It took less than four minutes for Delly to enter in Game 4 and along with fellow Aussie Thon Maker, they had their hands in everything, as the Bucks jumped out to the quick start they had not been able to achieve in the first two games.
The innate knowledge of the Bucks system that Prunty referenced is always on display when the gritty point guard links up with Milwaukee superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. In this play we see Dellevedova get the ball to Giannis at the free throw line - a position he will often look to score from. Delly curls for a hand off, and goes to work. Al Horford is hesitant to defend Delly as Giannis is the major threat, whilst Greg Monroe is concerned about the perimeter threat of Thon Maker and does not commit to defending the ball handler. Dellavedova senses the hesitation and goes up for an uncontested floater. Perfect execution.
Dellavedova finished Game 3 playing 16 mintutes, contributing five points and four assists, though as is so often the case with Delly, the box score stats only tell a fraction of the story. He harassed, annoyed and frustrated his Celtic opponents all night as his Bucks blew out Boston to surge back into the series. Boston coach Brad Stevens acknowledged the impact of both Australians on the Milwaukee roster post game.
“When Dellavedova and Maker came in, their energy was contagious.” Stevens said.
Milwaukee had unleashed playoff Delly to great effect, and the first quarter of Game 4 brought a moment that typifies the point guards career in the NBA. It was the quintessential Delly hustle experience, and it had the Bradley Center walls literally shaking.
After Khris Middleton scored on an up and under post move to put the Bucks up 22-17 with 1.2 seconds left, you figured the period was done. Inexplicably, Marcus Morris rolled the ball out to Shane Larkin, in an attempt to milk the clock and get one last shot off. Dellavedova not only pounced on the ball, but somehow banked in a shot over the outstretched arm of the stunned Morris. If the Bucks didn't already have momentum previously, it was surging their way after that play.
One of the biggest reasons that Dellavedova makes himself invaluable to a playoff team is his physical nature - a trait that is not uncommon with all the Aussies in the NBA - on a team that often lacks the ability to show desperation when it's required. Dellavedova is undoubtedly the Bucks best screen setter, and is always willing to show a tenacity in chasing rebounds that belies his size.
In Game 4, the Bucks ran up a 20 point lead with 7 minutes to go in the third quarter. With the lead cut to 8, the Bucks were on shaky ground. A Guerschon Yabusele corner three is partially blocked by Middleton. Thon Maker is out of position to collect the loose ball and it's left to Delly to compete with the Celtics Morris in mid air for the rebound. Delly takes contact whilst airborne from Morris, secures the ball and is able to to offload to Tony Snell before falling out of bounds. The spectacular play results in a fast break basket for Middleton and the run is halted. Once again, it's a solitary rebound on the box score, but the value of that play is unquestionable. Dellavedova made his presence felt once more.
Dellavedova logged 17 valuable minutes in Game 4, recording four points, four assists and three rebounds in the Bucks thrilling 104-102 victory. After playing just four minutes in the Bucks initial two losses, he has contributed 33 minutes of tenacious play in the two victories.
A big factor in the early struggles for Milwaukee was the play of Boston point guard Terry Rozier. Rozier played 72 minutes of flawless basketball, not committing a single turnover whilst racking up 46 points and 11 assists. When asked after Game 3 if there was any concern about defending the electric Rozier after a lack of game time before the playoffs, Dellavedova wasn't phased.
“I’ve been riding the bike for two months, so I can pick him up full-court as long as they need me to,” Dellavedova said post game.
A standard Delly response.
The series now moves back to Boston for this mornings Game 5, and you can expect the Aussie road villain to play a major role in proceedings. The Bucks need him to. They need his tenacity, his aggression and make no bones about it, they need his physicality. Locked at two a piece, the series is now essentially a best of three contest to advance to the second round. Playoff Delly is an actual thing, and he's arrived just in the knick of time for this Milwaukee Bucks squad.
Tip off for Game 5 between Boston and Milwaukee is Wednesday morning, 0900hrs AEST.