Following the Game 2 win in Oakland on Sunday night, LeBron James asked the Cleveland Cavaliers faithful to raise their collective decibel to volumes unheard before in the Championship-starved city. On Tuesday, while witnessing James pour in 40 points on Cleveland’s way to a 96-91 Game 3 victory, the fan base exceeded all expectations.
From the moment the Cavaliers took the floor for pre-game warmups, the piercingly loud crowd gathered inside Quicken Loans Arena provided an electric atmosphere that will be remembered for generations to come.
“They were unbelievable from the start to the finish,” James said of the hometown crowd. “We fed off them, and we just tried to give it all back to them for 48 minutes. As loud as they were, they need to go home now and start soaking up a lot of tea, drinking a lot of tea for the next 36 hours, whatever the case may be, because they need to be just as loud Thursday night. So I need you guys to get those voices right. But they’re going to be unbelievable Thursday night as well. Those guys, everyone, they were amazing.”
The MVP chants for James were heard early and often throughout Cleveland’s first NBA Finals win on its homecourt in franchise history. Those chants may also be never more deserving at any point in his career than they are right now.
Through three games, James has set an NBA Finals record with 123 total points. He’s doing this for a team without Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Anderson Varjeao, playing against an opponent featuring the League’s MVP in Stephen Curry. He’s writing a new chapter in his legacy of greatness, and the collective dreams reborn this summer throughout Northeast Ohio reached deafening tones on Tuesday in response.
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“Every time the media or anyone thinks that he can’t accomplish something or do something remarkable, he always answers the call,” Tristan Thompson said. “He’s playing great basketball for us, and we’re just getting on his shoulders and just riding him through the game. As him being our leader, he’s been phenomenal, and the other guys got to keep stepping up.”
In support of LeBron’s 40-point, 12-rebound and 8-assist effort, Matthew Dellavedova continued to step up and carve out an eternal spot in Cleveland sports history. After being celebrated for his defensive effort on Curry in Game 2, the second-year guard from Australia who was criticized at times throughout the regular season played like a folk hero. In 38 minutes of work, Dellavedova finished with a team-high +/- of +13 while totaling 20 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists. During multiple moments throughout the game, the “Delly” chants sounded like something from a movie.
“They seem to like him, don’t they?” Blatt said of the fans response to Dellavedova’s effort. “Delly’s the most Cleveland-like Australian I’ve ever met in my life. And if you’re from Cleveland, you know just what I’m talking about. The guys love Delly because he just plays with all his heart and he cares first about the team and only about the team. Whether he’s playing nine minutes or 40 minutes, he’s going to give you everything you have. What’s not to love about the guy?”
After Cleveland built a 20-point lead in the third quarter, the Golden State Warriors came all the back in the fourth to make it 81-80 on the strength of 24 second-half points from Curry. As the celebration that ensued throughout the arena minutes earlier became audibly shook, it was Dellavedova who brought the fans back with a critical, falling-down, finish on the offensive end.
“That was a huge turning point,” Curry said of Dellavedova’s three-point play in the fourth quarter. “We were down 17 going into the fourth. Bring it all the way back to one, and I tried to get out of the way. I don’t know if I hit him or not, but he makes a great play off the backboard. We still had a chance to win regardless of that play. But it was a good turning point for him to get the crowd back into it. They obviously love the way he plays.”
No city embraces the underdog story quite like Cleveland. From an injury-ravaged roster to an undrafted second-year guard logging 40 minutes a night, this Cavaliers team embodies everything its city has always hoped to celebrate. You know LeBron will be great on this stage, but nobody expected him to score the most points in NBA Finals history thus far.
You know Dellavedova is going to give you hustle and grit defensively, but he just threw in 20 points, too. From Tristan Thompson to Timofey Mozgov and everyone else in between, this run has everything that legends are made of.
And the party continues in Cleveland on Thursday for a fanbase acutely aware that the Game 3 winner in a 1-1 Finals has gone on to win the series 83 percent of the time.