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Darius Garland’s performance against Golden State is a blueprint to build on

Garland’s aggression unlocked new levels to the Cavs’ offense.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

A common criticism of Darius Garland is the selflessness he plays with, against the Warriors we saw a different version of Garland that unlocks the Cavaliers’ offense. It’s not that he’s too unselfish — it’s that he could shoot more without changing who he is as a player.

Darius Garland measures in as a 6’1” guard. The NBA is a hard place for smaller guards to generate a lot of quality looks at the rim. Over his first four seasons, Garland has shied away from attacking the rim, only taking roughly 24% of his looks from restricted area. Garland has much more fancied his scoring opportunities coming from midrange via pullups off the dribble and floaters or from the perimeter.

Garland thrives in those areas ranking in the 92nd percentile in field goal percentage in the midrange (48%) and 86th percentile from three (41%) in the 2022-2023 season, according to Cleaning the Glass. However, against Golden State, we saw a version of Garland that caught both the Warriors defense and gets at what has felt like it’s missing from his game.

When missing his first two three point attempts, Garland changed up the offensive approach and decided to put his shoulder down and attack the cup. This proved a successful adjustment as Garland was able to get to the charity stripe 13 times.

Garland didn’t make a single three-pointer against Golden State. But still finished as the Cavaliers’ second leading scorer with 24 points in 30 minutes. While it’s not the most eye popping statline to the average NBA fan, those who follow the Cavaliers, especially Garland will note the 12 for 13 from the line as this is outside the norm for him.

Garland setting up not only the pressure inside, but also maintaining his pressure from midrange allowed for assist opportunities to generate as well. Garland finished the game with 7 assists making him account for 43 points of the Cavaliers 115. He probably could have generated more looks, but a lot of his decision making in the midrange either resulted in easy floaters or kick outs to the wings where defenders collapsed.

When asked about his ability to open up the Warriors defense, he responded “...I wanted to create for others. They weren’t giving up the lob as much so I was just getting easy layups. Then I started getting to the free throw line so that opened up everything else. It is all just part of that attack mindset.”

Garland’s aggressiveness in the paint was not only a great adjustment for Garland, but provided valuable insight into what having two guards (Garland and Donovan Mitchell) who can get their own at any time opens up for the supporting players.

Having two guards who are able to get downhill and force defenses to collapse generates so many open opportunities for players such as Max Strus, Georges Niang and Dean Wade. When the offense relies on one guard like we saw with Mitchell through the first 5 games, the offense can feel hamstrung at times. The solution defensively when the offense funnels through one ball dominant guard is as simple as either throwing a trap onto Mitchell, or containing the supporting players so when Mitchell is met there is nowhere to kick out.

The win against Golden State was notable because it was the Cavaliers first regular season win against the Warriors since Christmas Day 2016. But more importantly, it’s notable due to the fact it felt like the first well rounded game the Cavaliers have played offensively all season. All five starters scored double digits and got good minutes from all the role players as well.

When the Cavaliers’ placed an emphasis on movement shooters like Strus and Niang in the offseason, the blueprint was laid out that the offense was going to be more free flowing. Through five games of injury riddled basketball, that seemed almost impossible to see. Now, with Mitchell playing at an All-NBA-level yet again, and Garland showing this ability to not shy away from contact and getting the calls. The Cavaliers have appeared to unlock the offense. The question for Garland and the Cavaliers is “was this a moment?” or “is this the beginning of a pattern?”