Nick FriedelESPN staff writer4 minutes of reading
CLEVELAND — Darius Garland heard the message loud and clear.
After the Cleveland Cavaliers point guard struggled to make an impression at various times during Saturday’s Game 1 loss to the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, it seemed like everywhere the 23-year-old turned, people were telling him one thing and something too.
“Everybody in the building told me to go be aggressive,” Garland said after scoring 32 points to lead the Cavs to a 107-90 victory in Game 2 on Tuesday night. “Go shoot the ball. I watched the film from the first game and I saw some opportunities where I could take it and be aggressive, and that’s what I just tried to do today.”
Garland, who didn’t attempt a shot in Saturday’s fourth quarter, came on to start Game 2, scoring 26 points in the first half. He became just the third Cav in franchise history to score at least 26 points in a half, joining LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
Cavs star guard Donovan Mitchell was one of many teammates and coaches who offered Garland some encouraging words over the past few days. The veteran All-Star believed the young playmaker, who also chipped in with seven assists on Tuesday, simply needed to get that first playoff game under his belt.
“It’s the All-Star Game we all know, and it was great to see,” Mitchell said. “And I told him at the end of the day, that’s what we’re going to need, to continue to be aggressive.
Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff was happy to see his young team rise to the challenge. As much as Garland’s performance pleased the coach, he was quick to note how important Mitchell’s ability to ride the hot hand of his young teammate was to the group.
“What he did tonight was make sure everybody had faith,” Bickerstaff said of Mitchell. “Everyone played to their strengths. And when he was turned round, he might very easily have decided it was time to shoot, but he did not; he made sure those guys kept going so they could keep that confidence. “
After the Cavs were outplayed by a tough Knicks group in Game 1, especially on the boards, Bickerstaff was pleased to see his group rise to the occasion on the defensive end, limiting the Knicks all night. The Cavs outshot the Knicks 43-36 in Game 2.
“We’ve got to keep hitting that home run,” Bickerstaff said. “We got kicked around the boards the other night, and tonight these guys took it personally and made a huge difference.”
Garland also took on the challenge from his peers to elevate his game offensively and take the pressure off Mitchell. Asked which words resonated with him the most out of all the people he’s heard from, Garland was quick to respond.
“The Cavaliers, as a team, literally,” Garland said. “We’re in a movie and everyone told me to shoot the ball. They showed some clips where I had open shots and didn’t shoot them. So really the whole organization tells me to shoot the ball; it’s not just one person.”
Now, the Cavs must prepare for what they know will be a tumultuous environment in Game 3 on Friday night at Madison Square Garden. Mitchell, who many around the league thought could land with the Knicks last summer before being traded to Cleveland, wants the Cavs to control what they can instead of worrying about the outside noise that awaits them the rest of the week.
“Just do what we do,” Mitchell said. “Don’t do it too much. Don’t make the moment too big… Just make the moment about what we’re doing. Understanding that it’s going to be loud, it’s going to be crazy, it’s going to be fun. “