Cavalier’s guard Matthew Dellevedova, who’s made a name for himself during this year’s NBA playoffs based on his hustle and intangibles, needs to go back to the future before Tuesday night’s NBA Finals game 6 in Cleveland. What he’s got to go back to is his ritual of drinking coffee before a game. Although he stopped taking it for a good reason, in fixing one problem (dehydration) by giving up coffee (a diuretic), a couple of additional problems have been introduced, problems that Delle and the Cavs can’t afford to deal with if they want to win game 6 and go back to Oakland for a game 7 against the Golden State Warriors.
Delle had to be taken to the hospital after game 3. He had severe cramps and was so dehydrated that he needed to be put on an IV. As I, along with many others, learned before game 4, Delle has a ritual of drinking coffee before the game but didn’t drink it before game 4 or 5 to avoid getting dehydrated again (diuretics cause the body to eliminate water). His combined shooting in those two games was 5-for-23 (22%) from the floor and 3-for-14 (21%) from behind the 3-point line.
There are both mental and physical problems with eliminating coffee as a pre-game ritual. From the mental standpoint, if an athlete has a pre-performance ritual and believes that it’s important, it is. Look at the example of a baseball player who believes he has a pair of lucky socks that help him hit well (this is not farfetched if you’ve watched baseball over the years). One day, the player forgets to bring those socks. He’s at the plate against a pitcher who throws a 95 mile per hour fastball and, instead of being totally focused on the pitch, a part of his brain is focusing on the fact that he’s not wearing the lucky socks. How do you think he’s going to do at the plate?
So even if Delle’s ritual was just about lucky socks, it’d be important for him to either continue with the ritual or work with someone like me to change his belief that the socks were lucky and an important part of his success. As a general rule, never take something away without first replacing its benefit. In the case of a general ritual, that belief that the ritual contributes to the athlete’s success must be replaced with some other belief that will allow the athlete to succeed at the high level.
However, Delle’s ritual isn’t about socks, it’s about caffeine. Caffeine is known it improve mental focus. It’s known for elevating blood sugar, which increases energy. And Delle is getting big minutes in the NBA playoffs because he’s an effort player. He needs all the energy he can muster to play the minutes that he’s playing and to try to limit Steph Curry’s offense. The latter isn’t something that has been done with great success on a consistent basis this season but Delle has done a nice job on him at times during the series.
In game 5, Delle looked a half-step slow to me. He didn’t play at the speed he often plays at; walked at times when he would normal run full out; and he kept an additional step back on defense so he wouldn’t get beaten to the basket. Give Curry an extra foot of space to get off his shot and you can expect him to go for the 37 points (57%) he went for in leading GSW to the game 5 win.
If Delle needs to drink additional water before and during the game, so be it. But changing a ritual mid-Finals is not a good idea and changing it by eliminating a brain/body stimulant is worse. The NBA is a level of sports where tenths, or sometimes hundredths, of a second is the difference between a play being successful and being a failure. Delle needs to be at his hustling best in game 6 if the Cavs are going to win. Going back to his pre-game coffee ritual will help him do just that.