CLEVELAND — Darius Garland heard the message loud and clear.
After the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ point guard struggled to make an impact at various points 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 the same thing.
“Everybody in the building told me to go be aggressive,” Garland said after scoring 32 points and leading the Cavs to a 107-90 Game 2 victory Tuesday night. “Go shoot the ball. So I watched the film from the first game and seeing some opportunities where I can go get mine and go be aggressive, and that’s what I just tried to do today.”
Garland, who did not attempt a shot in Saturday’s fourth quarter, got rolling early in Game 2, pouring in 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 to offer Garland some encouraging words over the past few days. The veteran All-Star believed the young playmaker, who also chipped in with seven assists Tuesday, just needed to get that first playoff game under his belt.
“That’s the All-Star 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, continue to be aggressive.”
Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff was happy to see his young team respond to the challenge. As much as Garland’s performance pleased the coach, he was quick to point out how important Mitchell’s ability to ride the hot hand of his young teammate was for the group.
“What he did tonight is make sure that everybody had belief,” Bickerstaff said of Mitchell. “That everybody played to their strength. And when they had it going, he could have very easily decided it was time for him to take shots, but he didn’t; he made sure those guys kept going so they could keep that confidence.”
After the Cavs were outworked 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 outrebounded the Knicks 43-36 in Game 2.
“We have to continue to hammer this home,” Bickerstaff said. “We got our ass kicked on the boards the other night, and tonight those guys took it personal and made a huge change.”
Garland also took the challenge from his peers of being able to lift his game offensively and take some pressure off Mitchell. Asked which words resonated with him the most out of all the people he heard from, Garland was quick with his answer.
“The Cavaliers, as a team itself, literally,” Garland said. “We’re in film and everybody told me to shoot the ball. They showed a couple clips where I had open shots and I didn’t shoot ’em. So it’s really the entire organization telling me to shoot the ball; it’s not just one person.”
Now the Cavs must get set for what they know will be a raucous environment waiting for them in Game 3 on Friday night inside Madison Square Garden. Mitchell, who many around the league thought might land with the Knicks last summer before getting dealt to Cleveland, wants the Cavs to control what they can instead of worrying about the outside noise that awaits them throughout the rest of the week.
“Just do what we do,” Mitchell said. “Don’t make it too much. Don’t make the moment too big. … Just make the moment about what we do. Understanding that it’s going to be loud, it’s going to be crazy, it’s going to be fun.”