Darius Garland has done an excellent job all season of getting the bigs involved offensively. Their ability to get into and finish in the paint is one of the reasons why the Cleveland Cavaliers had a top-ten offense despite poor outside shooting.
The New York Knicks made it clear from the jump in Game 1 that they weren’t going to let the Garland pick-and-roll get going. They came out aggressively trapping Garland leading to his 5 turnovers. This was part of the reason why Evan Mobley was held to 8 points and Jarret Allen to 14.
The sloppy start was due to not having a good counter for the trap early on. Mobley quickly slipped this screen like he typically does. New York doubled resulting in an early turnover and free points on the other end.
Garland’s lack of size makes it difficult for him to do anything quickly out of traps if his screener doesn’t set a hard screen. Even when he does get it away, it’s often a pass that takes longer than you’d like to get to its target. In this example, Julius Randle is able to rotate down to Allen forcing Mobley to take a contested shot over Mitchell Robinson.
Mobley struggled in the short roll. Even though this, and many other examples, weren’t ideal conditions, he’s someone who’s proven to be talented enough to do a better job finishing or finding the open man in this situation. The Cavs simply need more from him in this role going forward.
The Knicks did a good job of making Garland uncomfortable early resulting in 4 first half turnovers compared to just 1 assist. The Cavs adjusted in the second half as Donovan Mitchell took a more on-ball role.
The switch also happened due to Mitchell doing a better job of valuing possessions. Afterwards, he was first to admit that he was pressing in the first half as he forced a heavily contested layup and three in short order.
As a result of both being a more willing passer and on-ball play creator, Mitchell finished with a game high 8 assists. Seven of which coming in the second half.
Mitchell’s explosiveness and physical traits make him much more difficult to trap than Garland. This play was nearly identical as Garland’s first turnover as Mobley slips immediately resulting in a trap. But Mitchell has the ability to make passes with much more velocity. There aren’t many people on the planet who can currently make this pass.
Mitchell also draws defenders like a magnet when he drives inside. He used that to find Allen for an easy dunk here.
Mitchell playing on ball more also allows Garland to attack off-ball. Garland’s skillset is better used when defenses can’t load up on him like they were in simple high pick-and-rolls.
Mitchell initiates the play and dumps it off to Mobley. Mobley has more time to make a good pass here due to Mitchell getting it out to Mobley faster once he slips. Mobley finds Garland in the corner who’s able to use his shiftiness to finish inside against a defense that isn’t able to load up on him.
Garland was also used as a screener for Mitchell. This makes the defense shift from side-to-side in a way the Cavs struggled to do in Game 1 due to their lack of perimeter shooters. Garland is able to get a clean midrange jumper because of it.
A more off-ball role doesn’t mean Garland can’t still be a playmaker. This example resulted in a turnover, but the design was good. Garland just isn’t able to get completely around Robinson to complete the dump off to Allen.
Garland will need to do better against traps. Mitchell is already carrying a heavy load and can’t be the initiator and play finisher for all 48 minutes. A simple way to help with these traps is setting more physical screens that slow down how quickly the trap can come. Mobley does so here allowing Garland to get off an uncontested midrange look.
The playoffs are about making adjustments and reacting to the adjustments made by your opponent. The Cavs found some things that worked in Game 1, but the offense left a lot on the table as they finished with a dreadful 103.2 offensive rating and were held to just 97 points.
The main cause of concern is defensive rebounding, but finding ways to make the offense run more efficiently will allow for a larger margin of error on that end.