It’s been a wild week for the Cleveland Cavaliers and quite literally the rest of the world. The Cavs took care of business this week by winning all three games which vaulted them into third place in the Eastern Conference.
Unfortunately, COVID is once again wreaking havoc in Northeast Ohio as seven Cavaliers have entered health and safety protocols this week alone. Their game against the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday was postponed and it remains to be seen how many more games will be as the league struggles to keep this season afloat.
Here’s what we learned from another dystopian week.
Darius Garland keeps getting better.
Garland continued his great play as he finished the week averaging 19.7 points and 4.7 assists with a 68.5 true shooting percentage. The third-year point guard also combined for an on/off of +48 in his last three games.
This week has been pretty much in line with what we’ve seen from him throughout December. Garland is averaging 20 points and 7.6 assists on .514/.483/1.000 shooting splits in the ten games he’s played this month. Those incredible numbers have led to a 64.9 true shooting percentage and a net rating of 20.6.
Garland is in complete control of the offense when he is on the floor. He is playing with the poise of a veteran point guard who is comfortable forcing the issue while still being under control and taking what the defense is giving him. Finding that balance can be one of the hardest skills for a guard to develop no matter their experience level.
Garland has played like an all-star this month. It’ll be interesting to see if he can continue this level of play and carve out a spot on the roster in February.
We’re seeing vintage Kevin Love off the bench.
It’s almost unfair that the Cavs are able to bring veterans like Love and Ricky Rubio off the bench. We saw that advantage playout this week when Love led the Cavs past a revenge filled Miami Heat team last Monday night. He finished with a game high 23 points on 5 of 8 shooting from three and 9 rebounds.
Love’s ability to take over games in bursts has been on full display recently. He averaged a vintage 17.7 points on 47.6% shooting from deep and 7 rebounds in just over 20 minutes of play per game this week. The Cavs put together their best basketball this week with him on the floor as the team was a +57 points in the 62 minutes he played.
Love is a streaky shooter whose game always looks better when his outside shot is falling. Fortunately for the Cavs, he’s been on a hot streak recently as he’s shooting 48.5% from three on 6.6 attempts per game this month.
That said, Love has been more than just an outside shooter this season. The veteran is shooting 72.2% within three feet of the basket and 61.9% from 3 to 10 feet which are both career highs albeit on career low field goal attempts from those areas. The high percentage but low volume shows how his shot diet has changed but he’s still able to exploit mismatches when the opportunity presents itself. Being in a more secondary role allows him to pick and chose his spots instead of being forced to take a higher volume of lower percentage shots.
Rubio and Garland work best together.
The Cavs jumped out to an 11-point first half lead against the covid ravaged Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night. The Cavs were playing uninspiring basketball and were only out to a modest lead due to having more healthy NBA caliber players on the floor. The team needed a jolt of energy in the second half and J.B. Bickerstaff went to his break glass in case of emergency duo to get them out of their funk.
Ricky Rubio and Darius Garland started the second half together which led to 31-18 third quarter. The Cavs were +24 when the duo shared the floor as the Cavs coasted to a comfortable victory.
This has been a common theme this season as Rubio and Garland have formed the Cavs most successful two-man lineup that has played over 250 minutes. The Cavs are outscoring opponents by 17.1 points per 100 possessions in the 468 minutes the duo has shared the floor which has led to a 113.2 offensive rating and 96.1 defensive rating.
The on/off numbers on the year paint a similar picture for both Rubio and Garland. Rubio has a net rating of 1.5 in the 13.3 minutes per game he plays without Garland compared to the 17.1 net rating he has in the 16.1 minutes a game they share the floor. Similarly, Garland averages 18 minutes a game without Rubio and has a net rating of 4.1 in those minutes.
Both Rubio and Garland are dynamic ball handlers who are great at moving without the ball which isn’t something we could say about Garland before this season. They both have the unique ability to keep the defense guessing by diving in and out of the lane to create passing angles and windows to finish at the rim for themselves which works great in a half-court offense that relies heavily on their front court to finish offensive possessions. Having two guards with that skillset on the floor together allows the offense to keep flowing since there are more than one guys who can initiate the front court in that way.
The Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley pairing is what is getting the headlines and rightfully so. The front court has stifled teams with their ability to lockdown the paint and defend the perimeter at an uncommonly high level. However, that duo doesn’t have the success they’re having without the incredible play individually and collectively from Rubio and Garland. It’s past time to show some appreciation for the other duo leading the Cavs to victory.