CLEVELAND—Did Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova attempt to injure Hawks center Al Horford during a play that led to Horford's ejection from Game 3?
Although the Hawks didn't come out and scream "dirty player" after they fell to the Cavaliers 114–111 in overtime on Sunday, they did cast aspersions on Dellavedova's reputation.
"Maybe it wasn't on purpose," Horford said afterward, referring to Dellavedova falling near his knee, prompting Horford to retaliate with an elbow to Dellavedova's head. "But with his track record, I just felt like it was. ... I should’ve handled it better. I shouldn’t have gotten caught up in that. It’s something that I’ll definitely learn from."
A number of other Hawks players, including DeMarre Carroll, questioned Dellavedova's actions.
"I just saw Dellavedova diving," Carroll said, according to CBSSports.com. "You know, he did it to Kyle and ... he did it to Al. I think Al said, ‘Enough of this.’ And he did what he did. ... It’s okay to dive for a loose ball, but when you dive at people’s feet, nothing but bad things are going to happen."
The intense post-game chatter seemed to be fueled, in part, by frustration that Horford wasn't able to play for the entire second half and overtime following the second-quarter incident. With 34 seconds remaining before halftime and Atlanta leading 48–47, the two players became entangled as they battled for a rebound. Dellavedova fell backward onto Horford's right leg, prompting Horford to respond by elbowing Dellavedova in the head.
After a lengthy video review, the officials assessed Dellavedova a technical foul and gave Horford a flagrant foul 2, a designation that applies to contact that is deemed "unnecessary and excessive" and which carries an automatic ejection. Replays appeared to indicate that Horford wound up before striking Dellavedova.
The incident comes two days after Dellavedova crashed onto Kyle Korver's right ankle while chasing a loose ball. Korver was forced from Game 2 with an ankle sprain and later ruled out for the remainder of the playoffs. In addition to the Korver incident, Dellavedova was involved in an exchange with Bulls forward Taj Gibson in the second round. The two players were tied up as they went for a rebound and Gibson was eventually ejected for kicking Dellavedova.
Horford added that Dellavedova needs to be more careful around his colleagues.
"He’s only been in this league for a couple of years," Horford said. "He’s got to learn that at the end of the day it’s a big brotherhood here. Guys look out for reach other. I don’t think it was malicious, but he’s got to learn."
Kent Bazemore and Shelvin Mack repeated Horford's suggestion that Dellavedova has a "track record" of similar plays.
"I would obviously disagree with that," Dellavedova said, when told of Atlanta's comments. "[On the Korver play], I saw the ball and I dove on the floor. If I stay on my belly it's going to be a jump ball, so I protected the ball and kicked it out to a teammate. On the other one, I'm boxing [Horford] out. He's pulling my left arm down. I'm trying to stay up, and he's just pulling me down. The tape is there."
LeBron James adamantly defended Dellavedova in response to the Hawks' concerns.
"If they're worried about Delly, they're worried about the wrong thing," James said. "There's no difference between what Delly did to Kyle Korver last game and 18 guys diving on the floor late in the game tonight. ... We don't ever want to play with the integrity of the game and try to get people hurt. That's not what it's about because we all want brotherhood."
James also suggested that Dellavedova's actions were unfairly drawing more scrutiny than a flagrant foul by Hawks center Pero Antic on James in Game 2.
"Antic two-hand shoves me out of the air," James said. "The fact that I'm still playing, we don't talk about it. So what are we really talking about? Are we going to talk about us trying to win basketball games? ... This is my guy, my teammate, and this is a guy that goes out and works his tail off every single night. People are trying to give him a bad rap. He doesn't deserve it and I don't like it. ... I will protect my guys for sure."
The NBA's officiating Twitter account released this explanation for the ejection: "Horford threw an unnecessary and excessive forearm/elbow to Dellavedova, making contact above the shoulders, therefore a flagrant 2 foul was called on Horford."
Later, referee Ken Mauer told a pool reporter that Dellavedova was assessed a "live ball physical taunt technical foul" because Dellavedova's "head and shoulders made contact with Horford's knee area."
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer chose not to make a major issue out of Horford's ejection. [daily_cut.NBA]"Officiating in our league is very difficult," he said. "From the replays, for me, it’s somewhat difficult to see whether his elbow hits the shoulder or hits the head first. If he hits the shoulder first, then I think it’s not something that’s an action that deserves ejection. If he hit him in the head, then it’s an action that deserves ejection."
Dellavedova, who started in place of injured point guard Kyrie Irving, posted 17 points in the win.
Cleveland enters Game 4 on Tuesday with a 3-0 series lead.