Cavs’ Darius Garland shows his star power with 51 points: ‘He’s a special player’

CLEVELAND — Darius Garland and coach JB Bickerstaff are in constant communication.

When they talk, the focus is often on the bigger picture instead of just a particular night. But in a recent conversation between the two, Bickerstaff wanted to make sure they were on the same page and understand where the other was coming from. He wanted to understand Garland’s expectations and have Garland recognize his and the coaching staff’s expectations.

“There’s never any gray area with us,” Bickerstaff said.

“He just told me to stay with it,” the Cleveland Cavaliers guard said. “He knows I was going through some stuff. He just told me to stay with it. It’s a team thing, so going to be there for my guys. They’ve always been there for me, so I want to reciprocate the same thing; just try to go out there and battle.”

Garland has struggled as of late. He was under the weather Wednesday for the Sacramento Kings game and struggled in the Cavs’ loss to the Golden State Warriors on Friday. Against the Kings, Garland scored just six points, shooting 1 of 9 from the field and 1 of 4 from 3. Garland tried to figure out other ways to help, and he finished with eight assists.

He had 15 points against the Warriors but struggled to connect as he shot 5 of 19 from the field and 1 of 5 from 3. He also dished out eight assists, had two steals and grabbed three rebounds.

Garland said he’s been working through sickness and what he described as “slumps” and “stuff.” Garland also said his eye still isn’t 100 percent. He can see, but his eyelid still has a noticeable droopiness.

On Sunday night, he battled his way through those different challenges. Garland started to find his offensive rhythm early, as he opened the first quarter with 10 points, hitting two key 3s.

Garland then tried to single-handedly will the Cavs to a win. Garland scored 27 points in the fourth quarter and provided a necessary late-game spark, giving the Cavs a fighting chance after a sleepy first three quarters. He found his spots and took his 3s with ease. He ended the night shooting 16 of 31 (51.6 percent) from the field and 10 of 15 (66.7 percent) from 3. He also shot 9 of 13 from the free-throw line.

He broke his previous career high of 41 points with a free throw that gave him 42 points in the fourth quarter. Garland finished with a career-high 51 points and became the first NBA player to score at least 50 points this season.

The Cavs had a multitude of factors working against them heading into Sunday’s game. Coming off a long West Coast trip, missing two starters and a 6 pm tipoff with no shootaround presented different challenges. Cleveland lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves 129-124 and extended its losing streak to four games.

Yet for Garland to bounce back in this fashion, while the Cavs were without starters Donovan Mitchell (ankle strain) and Jarrett Allen (left ankle soreness), was important.

“He was phenomenal,” Bickerstaff said. “I think we all know what Darius is capable of. He wasn’t going to play that way for too long. He’s too talented, too good. He’s a special player. So it was good for him and for his confidence to get him back out there and have a night like tonight.”

Garland is the fourth player in Cavs history with a 50-point game. He joined LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Walt Wesley, according to ESPN Stats. It was also the 17th game in NBA history that a player has had at least 50 points and 10 triples, and the 22-year-old is the youngest to do so.

It was the first 50-point game by a Cavs player since Nov. 3, 2017, when James scored 57 points.

“I’ve only been in the league for three years, but that was one of the most impressive performances I’ve ever seen,” Lamar Stevens said. “He just completely took over. I think he went unconscious. It was really impressive. I’m happy he was able to really go out and do that tonight. I think he really just got that swag back.”

Garland’s 10 three-pointers were also a career high. He became the third Cavs player in team history with 10 or more threes in a game.

At one point in the fourth quarter, Bickerstaff was going to sub Garland out. But Garland waved him off. He wanted to stay in the game. Stevens took notice. He saw a look in Garland’s eye that he wanted to keep going.

“I remember a point where JB was about to sub Darius, and he was like, ‘No, let’s keep it going,’” Stevens said. “And I knew he was feeling it at that point. I mean, his talent is like he could go for 50 any night. It’s just about getting hot and getting those opportunities. I felt I definitely saw a look in his eye of him, for sure, late in the game.”

“I was making shots,” Garland said of that moment. “I don’t even know. I don’t even know what happened, but he tried to take me out, and I just told him no. I just felt good, he had a good amount of energy left in me over those last four or five minutes it was, I guess. He just tried to roll with it. He trusted me. That’s the coach I love.”

Garland didn’t know he had 50 points until he returned to the bench. There wasn’t any mention that he was even close to a 50-point game because they were focused on the outcome. They just wanted to win.

The Cavs fell short of that goal. But they still highlighted Garland’s successful night and his leadership of this group.

The Cavs needed Garland’s presence on the court as their floor general. They needed him as a scorer. And they needed his voice. Sunday night, he provided all those aspects.

“He’s our point guard,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that is leading the way, setting the tone a lot on offense and getting everybody involved. And also, he’s expected to score, too. He means a lot to this team. With all the pieces we have, he’s definitely a huge piece that we need to be successful day in and day out.”

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