After a disappointing Game 1, the Cleveland Cavaliers looked a lot more like their usual self in Game 2.
Cleveland got out-hustled and out-rebounded in Game 1, but put together a much more complete effort in the second and beat the visiting New York Knicks to even the series as it heads to the Big Apple.
Darius Garland explosion
But as complete of an effort as it was, the Cavs were led by their young star point guard Darius Garland. Garland had a scorching first half with 26 points, and looked untouchable from deep. The Knicks had no answer for Garland, whether it be going downhill or from beyond the three-point line.
Garland also displayed his passing ability, finding Jarrett Allen in a small window. He had total command of the offense in the first half, bending the defense to his will and making the Knicks pay as a result. It was a growing up moment, and a reminder that this is truly Garland’s second career playoff game (play-in games do not count, fight me). The entire offense flowed much better, and Garland was the conductor of that orchestra.
Darius Garland's vision on display.— NBA (@NBA) April 18, 2023
NYK/CLE off to the races on TNT! pic.twitter.com/av3paJERt2
For all the hubbub about Garland being seemingly invisible in Game 1, it was certainly nowhere to be found tonight. He shot the ball exceedingly well and finished with 32 points and seven assists including 6-10 from deep. Garland also played pretty good defense, sticking with his man and doing a decent job on R.J. Barrett. It was a total effort, and the Cavaliers needed it in a bad way.
Caris LeVert, playoff winning player
While Garland was great all night and the clear catalyst for the Cavs’ win, Caris LeVert was just as important off the bench. LeVert had 24 points on 9-16 shooting, but had some tough baskets that came at important moments when the Knicks started to gain a bit of momentum.
That is a tough mid-range jumper from LeVert, and that was coming off a few baskets for the Knicks to cut the lead a bit. But LeVert got to his spot at the foul line and rattled in a tough shot to dent the New York momentum. To boot, LeVert went 4-9 from deep, including a big three at the end of the first quarter to give the Cavs a lead. All night, it seemed like when the Cavaliers needed a bucket, LeVert was there to answer the call.
Mobley looking himself
As Garland was much maligned for his play in Game 1, Evan Mobley was scrutinized as heavily-if not more. The Defensive Player of the Year candidate shot poorly in Game 1 and looked small compared to New York’s front line, but he too responded well. Mobley had a double-double (13 points and 13 rebounds) with two steals and two blocks.
Mobley being back and a dominant force in the paint changes the complexity of this series. The Cavs won the rebounding battle as well, with Mobley leading all players in that category. So we can put a stop to the soft discussion.
The Cavs punished the Knicks all night and appeared much, much more physical than in Game 1. Cleveland needed it, and the they needed the crowd to be a factor too. This three-pointer from Danny Green was about as loud as it got.
The Cavs took a punch early in the game, falling behind by eight points in the first six minutes. It looked startlingly like Game 1, with a low energy effort. But the Cavs rebounded (literally) and withstood the punch from the Knicks. New York never recovered after that, and Cleveland took control and finished the job to even the series at 1-1.
Despite losing the rebounding battle big in Game 1, the Cavs stayed with smaller bench players in Cedi Osman and Danny Green. The one notable difference? Ricky Rubio and Dean Wade did not see the court at all, which was probably for the best given how poorly the bench played overall.
Up next: Game 3 is Friday 8:30 p.m. at Madison Square Garden, which will be quite the test for the young Cavs.