In an NBA Finals full of supporting-cast players ready to make an impact, Draymond Green and Matthew Dellavedova have stirred things up the most in these playoffs.
In Golden State’s corner, there’s Green, whose excellent basketball IQ and awareness are often overlooked due to his oft-brash personality. The trash talk and technical fouls have made him a target, the closest thing to a villain on the extremely likable Warriors.
This villainous perception was furthered by a commercial for Beats headphones where reporters lob menacing questions at Green. “You’ve been called disrespectful. How do you respond to that?” asks one. “Why are you so arrogant?” asks another. “Why are you always looking for trouble?” asks a third. Green gives tepid responses to some of the queries and confused stares to others before putting his headphones on as Eminem plays and he walks away from the crowd.
In Cleveland’s corner, there’s Dellavedova, whose unlikely but crucial role in the Cavaliers’ run to the Finals has been clouded by parasitic tendencies. The man affectionately known by northeast Ohio as “Delly” has become not-so-affectionately known by the rest of the country as a “dirty player” this postseason.
The plays that led to the 24-year-old from Australia garnering this dubious reputation seemed to occur rapidly, like dominoes crashing into one another until the whole set is down in a heap.
It all started in Game 5 of the Chicago series. Dellavedova was boxing out Taj Gibson as Aaron Brooks found his way to the basket for a layup. As the two went to the ground after some contact, Dellavedova locked Gibson’s legs up in a very dangerous play. Gibson reacted by kicking Dellavedova, resulting in an ejection. Dellavedova wasn’t even issued a technical until after the game, which the Cavaliers ran away with after the incident.
That wasn’t the only time Delly made a questionable play and lured an opponent into his trap, however- he did it twice during the Atlanta series. In Game 2, he dove for a loose ball against Hawks guard Kyle Korver and turned his back onto Korver’s leg. Players dive for loose balls all the time, so this play wasn’t necessarily dirty, but many former and current players bemoaned Dellavedova’s disregard for his opponent, who suffered a high ankle sprain on the play and missed the rest of the series.
The very next game, Dellavedova was at it again, rolling into Al Horford’s legs and inciting a Horford elbow. Who was tossed? Not Dellavedova, who remained in the game as Horford was ejected, significantly hurting Atlanta’s chances in a must-win game.
Some like his peskiness, most don’t. Either way, the Warriors are likely going to be wary of getting into the situations the Hawks did.
The versatile Green will have to defend Cavs superstar LeBron James often in this series, giving him the chance to cash the checks his mouth has made all year. But it’s not just his mouth or his play that has him in the news this week- his thumbs are in the news too.
The newest fad of digging out old tweets from athletes found its way to the Michigan State alum this week, when someone unearthed many old tweets in which he talked trash about James every chance he got. Other NBA players, such as Damian Lillard, have talked trash about LeBron as well, but none of them had to guard the King in the Finals. He let his opinions be known, and now he must back them up five years later.
The actual level of play of these two has never been better. Green made All-Defensive First Team and had a case for Most Improved Player after he jumped from 6.2 points and five rebounds a game with 12 games started last year to 11.7 points and 8.2 boards a contest and starting all 79 games he played in this season. Golden State’s 16-game improvement from last year obviously had a lot to do with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Steve Kerr, but without Green’s increased production, they probably wouldn’t be in the position they’re in.
As for Dellavedova, he stepped up in the absence of Kyrie Irving (knee injury) these playoffs, averaging 12.7 points in the last three games of the Atlanta series, including a 17-point output in Game 3. He scored 19 in the closeout game of the Chicago series as well, unexpected but welcome production for a Cleveland team that looked to be in some trouble when Kyrie was hobbled.
Green and Dellavedova are equal parts producer and pest, a blend of protagonist to their team and antagonist to their opponent that makes for one of the more compelling stories of the Finals. Everyone is going to be watching Curry and James, but when it’s time to dig deep, the Dubs and Cavs will look to their respective agitators to provide the toughness they need.