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 in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the New York Knicks, it seemed like the 23-year-old was saying the same thing throughout.
“Everyone in the building was telling me to be aggressive,” Garland said after scoring 32 points and leading the Cavs to a 107-90 Game 2 win Tuesday night. “Go shoot the ball. So I watched the movie from the first game and saw a few occasions where I can get mine and be aggressive and I just tried that today.”
Garland, who didn’t attempt a shot in the fourth quarter on Saturday, got rolling early in Game 2 and scored 26 points in the first half. He became only the third Cav in franchise history to score at least 26 points in a half, alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
Cavs star guard Donovan Mitchell was among many teammates and coaches to offer some words of encouragement to Garland over the past few days. The veteran All-Star believed the young playmaker, who also provided seven assists on Tuesday, only needed to get through the first playoff game.
“This is the All-Star that 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 keep being aggressive.”
Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff was pleased his young team responded 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 his young teammate’s hot hand was to the group.
“What he did tonight is make everyone believe,” Bickerstaff said of Mitchell. “Everyone played to their strengths. And when it did, he could very easily have decided it was time for him to fire, but he didn’t; he kept these guys going so they could keep that confidence. “
After the Cavs were outplayed by a strong Knicks group in Game 1, particularly on the boards, Bickerstaff was pleased to see his group hold up on the defensive end of the opportunity and limit the Knicks all night. The Cavs overtook the Knicks in Game 2 by 43-36.
“We have to keep hammering this house,” Bickerstaff said. “We kicked butt on the boards the other night and tonight these guys took it personally and made a big change.”
Garland also took on the challenge from his peers to up his game offensively and take some pressure off Mitchell. When asked what words resonated with him the most of all the people he heard from, Garland was quick to answer.
“The Cavaliers, as a team itself, literally,” Garland said. “We’re in the movie and everyone told me to shoot the ball. They showed a few clips where I had open shots and I didn’t shoot them. So really the whole organization is telling me to kick the ball; it’s not just one person.”
Now the Cavs must brace themselves for a noisy environment that awaits them in Game 3 Friday night at Madison Square Garden. Mitchell, who many in the league thought might end up with the Knicks last summer before being dealt out to Cleveland, wants the Cavs to control what they can rather than worry about outside noise making them expected 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 do. To understand that it’s going to be loud, it’s going to be crazy, it’s going to be fun. “