Cavs guard Darius Garland vs Boston. ESPN Cleveland/Rob Lorenzo.
Game Night Observations: Garland's 51-point night and a near comeback
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Danny Cunningham covers the Cavaliers for 850 ESPN Cleveland and TheLandOnDemand.com
The first game back from a long road trip out to the opposite coast can often prove problematic for teams in the NBA. When that’s paired with missing a pair of All-Stars and an additional rotation player it becomes that much more of a challenge.
It was a challenge the Cavs couldn’t overcome – or even get up for – on Sunday night against Minnesota in a 129-124 defeat.
The Cavaliers were without Donovan Mitchell (right ankle), Jarrett Allen (left ankle), and Dean Wade (right knee). They were also without much effort on the defensive end of the floor for far too much of the night. That created a 24-point deficit that the Cavaliers nearly overcame thanks to an incredible fourth quarter by guard Darius Garland.
“He was phenomenal,” Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “He kept competing. We were sluggish to start with and could’ve very easily laid down early, but he kept getting after it and tried to will us to a win.”
Garland’s fourth quarter was magical. He scored 27 of his career-high 51 points in the final period and brought the Cavaliers all the way to within two points in the game’s final seconds. Garland made a career-high 10 3-pointers (six of them in the fourth) and looked much more like the player the Cavs expect to have on the floor on a nightly basis than the one who has been out there the last few games.
The Cavs entered the period trailing the Wolves by 20 and cut it to within two points late, but could get across the finish line. The fact that they were even close in this game, after trailing by as many as 24 points during the game, is a credit to Garland’s shot making and ability to put the team on his back on a night when the Cavs were lacking threats offensively.
What Garland was able to do on Sunday night – albeit without Mitchell alongside him – can allow some to breathe a sigh of relief after Garland had played a few subpar games. He missed two weeks with a lacerated left eyelid, returned for one game, during which he tweaked his knee, and then returned and played below his standard.
“We all know what Darius is capable of. He wasn’t going to play that way for too long,” Bickerstaff said. “He’s too talented, too good. He’s a special player so it’s good for him and good for his confidence to get him back out there and have a night like tonight.”
After the game on Sunday, he mentioned that he had been working through stuff.
“Sickness, slumps, stuff,” Garland said.
After a 51-point outburst, it’s hard to say he did anything other than bust out of any slump he was in. The next step will be making this work when Mitchell is on the floor with him. That’s not to say it hasn’t worked yet, but the sample size with the two of them sharing the floor hasn’t been large enough to form any real opinion as to how things work.
The reason why Garland’s incredibly fourth quarter wasn’t enough to push the Cavs across the finish line was the uninspired basketball the team played up until the fourth quarter. The Cavs were outscored 40-20 in the first quarter.
There wasn’t anything redeeming from the start of the game for Cleveland. The defense was poor, the offense was stagnant, and it felt as if every open look the Cavs had clanked off the iron.
“There’s a lot of things. That first game back off a long West Coast trip is always tough,” Bickerstaff said after the loss. “We just didn’t have any pop to start with and we were just searching, trying to find some lineups to give us a little bit of life and we found one there at the end.”
The shots started to fall for the Cavs as the game went on. Cleveland and Minnesota actually tied the combined score of the second and third quarters, but the defense didn’t show up until the fourth quarter. The Cavs allowed a season-high 129 points, which takes the lead from the 127 points they gave up on Wednesday night in Sacramento.
Credit the Wolves for making shots on Sunday night – and lots of them – but the Cavaliers didn’t make it difficult for them, either. D’Angelo Russell scored 30 points on just 13 shot attempts, Karl-Anthony Towns had 29 points on just 16 shots, and former Cavaliers forward Taurean Prince had 19 points on just six shots.
The Cavs made things difficult on Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards, but that was about it. Everyone else for the Wolves had their way with the Cavs’ defense, and that’s something that can’t just be attributed to Allen missing the game.
One thing the Cavs do deserve credit for is fighting. They entered the fourth quarter trailing Minnesota 104-84 and easily could have waived the white flag. There were reasons to with the team unable to defend, short on bodies, and a chance to limit Garland’s minutes, but the team pushed the other way.
“Just keep fighting,” Garland said of the team’s huddle between the third and fourth quarters. “I mean, that’s probably the answer to a lot of your questions, to keep fighting. I mean, you guys have seen us come back from a lot. Our team is just set on trying to grind everything out, play 48 minutes really hard, and see what the outcome is, so when we fight back, we thought we had a chance and thought we could get over that hump, but we fell a little bit short tonight.”
For a team that now has lost four straight games, and heads into Milwaukee next, that fight is a good sign. It would have been easy for this game to just be chalked up as a clunker with the team’s best player on the bench watching in street clothes, but making a game of this, even in a loss, is a good sign.