How the Cavs found their unlikely hero: Matthew Dellavedova

CLEVELAND – Mike Brown missed the end of his old's team's second-half performance in the NBA Finals late Tuesday because he was returning to Cleveland on a flight from Chicago. But as soon as the former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach departed the plane, a fan spotted him and offered an update with three points of emphasis.

• The Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors 96-91 in Game 3 of the Finals to take a 2-1 series lead.

• LeBron James was LeBron James.

• Matthew Dellavedova continued to defy the odds.

The last update brought a smile to Brown's face, but didn't surprise him. He was very familiar with Dellavedova long before he came to the Cavaliers undrafted two years ago.

"Nothing surprises me the way that kid works," Brown told Yahoo Sports.

Dellavedova sparked the Cavaliers with a playoff career-high 20 points, five rebounds and four assists in Game 3. After Golden State cut a 20-point deficit to one, he also had a key three-point play with 2:45 remaining to temper the threat. Cleveland is undefeated in four total games in the NBA Finals and Eastern Conference finals with Dellavedova starting at point guard in place of injured All-Star Kyrie Irving.

It was an exhausting 38½-minute performance for Dellavedova, who needed an IV after the game and was taken to a local hospital in an ambulance for further treatment after he experienced severe cramps. He did not speak to reporters after the game, but was released from the hospital and cleared to play in Game 4. Others, however, gladly praised him.

"He plays as hard as he can every day," Cavaliers coach David Blatt said. "He plays right. He's not afraid. He plays courageously. And everybody on his team has his back. It's not an issue of confidence. He is going to give you whatever he has."

Said Cavs guard Iman Shumpert: "He will leave it all on the floor every single play, get cut in the face, elbowed, scratched and keeps on fighting."

"I know one thing I'm going to count on Delly, as always, is how hard he's going to play," LeBron James said. "He's going to give everything he's got. His body, he's going to throw his body all over the place.  And he's going to compete at a high level however many minutes he's out on the floor.

"Tonight it was 38½ minutes, and for 38½ minutes he gave everything he's got."

After Dellavedova stepped on St. Mary's campus for the first time in the Oakland, Calif., suburb of Moraga in 2009, Brown and ex-Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant quickly became familiar with him because of a longtime friend and old coach.

St. Mary's is coached by Randy Bennett, an assistant coach at the University of San Diego when Brown and Grant played there. Brown also played for Bennett's father, Tom, at Mesa Community College in Arizona. Brown also often watched St. Mary's games during the 2012-13 season because his son, Elijah, nearly chose to sign a scholarship there out of high school. Dellavedova was a senior then who averaged 15.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists.

"Teams didn't think Delly was a draft pick," Brown said. "They didn't think he had a skill set. Didn't think he was athletic enough. Randy was disgusted by the feedback he got from other NBA teams. He felt that it would be in our best interest to take Delly.

"We trusted Randy. But we also saw something."

Where Brown and Grant really saw something from the Australian was during a workout with the Cavaliers prior to the 2013 NBA draft. The Cavaliers had six players who took part in several three-on-three games. Brown said that Dellavedova never lost and showed strong leadership. After the workout, Brown said Grant told Dellavedova that the Cavaliers would offer him a non-guaranteed contract if he was not drafted.

"He was phenomenal in the draft workouts," Brown said. "I purposely switched up teams to see how he would do and he still won. He was a leader, too, and everybody looked up to him.

"He was extremely competitive. He was the best competitor I've ever seen in a draft workout."

The Cavaliers' last pick in the 2013 NBA draft was the 33rd selection in the second round, which they used to take Arizona State shooting guard Carrick Felix. While interested in Dellavedova, they were confident that he would go undrafted. Bennett's frustrated rants about what other NBA teams were saying didn't make them nervous.

As expected, Dellavedova went undrafted. The Cavaliers quickly signed him to a two-year contract in which $200,000 was guaranteed. Such deals are rare for undrafted players.

"In my mind, he made the team during the workout," Brown said.

Dellavedova's agent, Bill Duffy, said his client declined overseas offers and offers from two NBA teams to go to the then-rebuilding Cavaliers.

"Chris was all over it before the draft," Duffy said. "He called me before the draft to say he wanted to sign him if he went undrafted. He deserves a lot of credit. He believed in Delly in college."

Irving and former Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters tested the mid-major player during training camp of his rookie year. Dellavedova never backed down and quickly impressed them with his work ethic and play. He averaged 4.7 points and 2.6 assists as a rookie and also had success guarding Washington sharpshooter Bradley Beal.

"Delly was the first one to arrive at practice and the last one to leave," Brown said. "He set it straight who he was immediately, with his play and tone. He didn't back down. He was coming every day and spent hours watching tape. …

"We felt he was going to be really, really good."

Grant was fired midway through last season. Brown was fired after the season. The Cavaliers now have a new general manager in David Griffin and a new head coach in Blatt. Most of the Cavs players are new, too, including James.

Dellavedova is one of the few remaining links to the Cavaliers from Brown and Grant. He will be a restricted free agent this summer and is making a name for himself during these NBA Finals.

"Delly used to have trouble guarding quick point guards like Jeff Teague [of the Atlanta Hawks]," Brown said. "But he figured out how to guard them better with angles and space. He is contesting every shot. Now he is hugging up on Stephen Curry defensively.

"He's physically and mentally tough. He's a leader. He isn't afraid."