If the first round is the floor show for obvious transcendent talent, then the second round is the Hour of the Locust.It is the reckoning point when talent pools boil to an even level and teams have to seek other ways of tilting the table in their favor. Historically, it is when your eye drifts from Tim Duncan to the Bruce Bowens of the world, taekwondo-kicking their team forward to glory.-Spencer Hall
Matthew Dellavedova showed last night that he is the Cleveland Cavaliers' locust.
Monday, SB Nation editor Spencer Hall wrote a fantastic tribute to the goons of the NBA. The piece was an appreciation of the Matt Barneses, the Andrew Boguts, the Tony Allens of the NBA, and how they are the types of players who swing series in the NBA Playoffs' later rounds.
For the Cavs, Hall picked Kendrick Perkins, citing him as "The original mean mug of all mean mugs." And while that's an accurate way to describe Perk (He did blast Jae Crowder immediately after the Kevin Love injury, after all), it's not technically accurate this year. Perk's one of the OG's of the modern NBA goons, a guy who fits the "six hard fouls" mantra to a T. But in order to be a true goon, you have to play more than 20 minutes across nine contests.
Instead, a new "goon" emerged for the Cavs last night. But instead of a grizzly, he's a cockroach.
Last night's Game 5 likely would have ended in a win for the Cavs without Taj Gibson getting ejected. The Cavs lead at that point, 83-71, a comfortable lead. But still, emotions from this extremely tight series boiled over, and Gibson appeared to get tangled with Delly and had enough of it, kicking him and starting a jawing match that led to his ejection.
Except that wasn't the only reason for the outburst. Delly embraced his inner locust, locking Gibson's leg after Gibson knocked him over going for a rebound. He brought the kick completely upon himself, by just doing a little extra after the whistle for the sake of being annoying. Was it a dirty play? Yes. Should he have been ejected too? Of course not. Tying up your legs with someone and that person kicking you in the hamstrings are not equated. It should have been a technical, sure. But Delly successfully toed the line between doing enough to get inside the opponents head and provoke a response and getting himself in trouble in the moment.* That's trademark goonery straight out of the Rick Mahorn and Joakim Noah playbooks.
*This is barring an NBA post hoc intervention that may be coming. That intervention will be a fine or suspension, and it will be deserved, but 3-2 is 3-2. That's the price of the profession for the locust.
And this isn't the only reason Dellavedova fits this role for the Cavs in this series. One incident does not a goon make. Instead, it's the culmination of annoying tactics thrown at the opponent that causes the singular ish-losing that occurred with Gibson. Delly is an annoyance for the Bulls on both ends. He's hitting 40 percent of his threes in the series, most often happening when Kyrie or LeBron have forced a collapse of the defense and the Bulls are scrambling, and then there's a kick out to that little Australian fruit fly of a player in the corner who drills one with confidence. Also, those plays where Tristan Thompson is catching a lob out of nowhere and dunking on your frontcourt's faces? Yeah, he's the one throwing most of those, then grinning with a clear mouthguard poking out as he backpedals and high-fives the best basketball player in the world. That and he threw a couple of those immediately after the Gibson incident completes the heel turn.
And then there's the annoyance Delly has been defensively. The Bulls are scoring just over four more points per 100 possessions with Delly on the floor in this series, but he's doing little things that specifically get in the Bulls' heads. He checks Aaron Brooks full-court for no discernable reason. He fouls on fast breaks to slow the game down. And he's been a significant factor in blowing up the Bulls' pick-and-rolls that murdered the Cavs in Game 1. And he does it in perhaps the most annoying way possible. Here's a sequence of an Brooks/Joakim Noah PNR last night:
Timofey Mozgov guards Noah, Delly guards Brooks. Noah screens Delly.
Rather than trying to fight through the screen at all, Delly backs into Noah while Mozgov ices Brooks over top. Noah now can't slip the screen, and Brooks has to hesitate because he's not sure which direction leads to a better shot.
Brooks goes over the screen, at which point Delly grabs the hip of Noah, spins towards Brooks, and is now in position to both catch Brooks and prevent Noah from getting a clean roll. Dirty? Yes. Locusty? Yes. Effective?
Contested Brooks three with LeBron James helping over top and Mozgov containing Noah for the rebound. I'd say so.
Goons don't just start incidents and get themselves and other players ejected. They are there to annoy the opposing team into submission. Sure, guys like Matt Barnes and Tony Allen may have severe drawbacks to their games that hurt the team, and Delly's inability to contain Derrick Rose or do anything off the dribble are no exception. But the overall frustration that he has caused in this series is significant, especially because with Gibson missing the next game (He got a flagrant one in the Bucks series and will likely be suspended one game for this), and Pau Gasol still nursing a hamstring injury, the Bulls now have two healthy bigs and Nazr Mohammed to play.
Every NBA team has guys like this. The Bulls have Noah; the Warriors have Bogut; the Wizards have Paul Pierce (Who's more cicada than locust, but still); the Grizzlies have......well, the Grizzlies. You may loathe the other teams' goons, but one you can identify your own, a weird but entertaining relationship develops with that player.
This is why Dellavedova should be embraced. He's not skilled. He does things like the fast break fouling that aggravate all of us. But he aggravates other teams more, to the point that last night, an opponent with five inches and 25 pounds on him decided he needed to throw him across the paint and then stomp on him after. I've been plenty critical of Delly since he joined the Cavs last season, but after watching this series unfold the way it has, it finally appears he's found a role to be successful in. All it took was embracing his inner goon.