Darius Garland, welcome back
In his first game since opening night, Darius Garland looked like his All-Star self.
He came out strong, scoring 14 points to go with 3 assists in the first quarter. That quarter — his high level of play — set the tone for his entire night. He finished with 29 points and 12 assists while shooting 9-20 from the field and 5-11 from three in 42 minutes.
From the moment he stepped on the floor, Garland was direct. He was under control, making purposeful movements to get off a three-pointer or go for a floater in the lane or setting up a teammate. He was fully confident, digging deep into his bag over and over again.
The Cavs needed him to be this against Boston. There weren’t dual 41-point performances from Donovan Mitchell and Caris LeVert coming to carry the offense. Mitchell, in fact, had one of his most low profile games of the season with 25 points and 6 assists. Mitchell, however, was sensational in the fourth with seven points straight when the Cavs needed it. He’s still playing at an insanely high level. But this was mostly Garland’s night. Welcome back.
Second quarter struggles
Cleveland’s worst quarter was the second. The offense stagnated, too often settling for jump shots and not attacking once the Celtics switched instead of pressing for a better look. The end result was a 15-point quarter where the Cavs shot 6-24 from the field, 3-11 from three and took zero free throws. (Some of the same issues presented themselves in the fourth too, when the Cavs saw a seven-point lead evaporate into a five-point deficit.)
To the Celtics’ credit, their defenses in the second quarter was stout. They repeatedly fought over screens, made tight and timely switches and worked to deny the Cavs any easy paths into the paint. But Cleveland could have done more, perhaps looking to set a screen or have an off-ball player cut inside after a switch. Instead, they settled. Against a team like the Celtics — who made the Finals last year led by a historically good defense and are still very good without the injured Robert Williams III this season — settling isn’t good enough. It also won’t be good enough come April and May.
Third quarter bounceback
On the flip side, the Cavs’ third quarter offense was excellent. They came out of halftime with more energy and were much more successful in attacking the paint. The result was a 33-point quarter with Cleveland shooting 11-21 from the field, 1-8 from three and 10-14 from the line. Caris LeVert took six free throws; Garland, Kevin Love, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen each took two.
The free throw attempts were the key. In a quarter where good three-point looks weren’t falling, the Cavs had to get inside and force the issue. The scoring in the quarter was balanced too, with Mobley and LeVert each scoring seven points and Garland, Mitchell and Allen each scoring six points.
Cleveland has a three-point gear in there. Love remains an elite off-ball shooter. Garland and Mitchell both can generate good pull-up looks for themselves and open looks for others. So far, the supporting pieces have been good enough from three to take advantage of what is there. But on nights where that isn’t there, they need to turn to something else. The third quarter is an example of what that could look like.
Up next: The Cavs kick off a road trip on Friday in Detroit against the Pistons. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.