Cavs play-in game experiences will go a long way for Darius Garland

Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)
Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by David Richard-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t have the close to the season that us fans and the team would’ve hoped for, as they ended up being the #8 seed in the Eastern Conference at the conclusion of the regular season. As a result, the Cavaliers were set to play in the play-in tournament, and took on the Brooklyn Nets in the #7-8 game in order to snag the #7 seed in the East on Tuesday.

Cleveland fell behind early by a considerable margin in that one, just as they did in similar fashion in a loss in Brooklyn last Friday, and that was less than ideal. To the Cavs’ credit, though, they fought their way back once again, and would cut the Nets lead to six on a few occasions.

The Nets star power with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving would ultimately put the Cavs away, along with the Cavs seemingly running out of gas, combined with their offensive struggles in the first half. But the Cavaliers, all things considered, rebounded in the game, and with this being a team mostly consisting of young players that haven’t been in the postseason yet, a 7-point loss in that one, to me, wasn’t all that awful.

The Wine and Gold ultimately would lose their play-in game to decide the #8 seed between them and the Atlanta Hawks in Cleveland on Friday, too, and in turn, their 2021-22 season has concluded. Trae Young had 32 of his 38 points in that contest in the second half, and despite their 10-point deficit at halftime, Atlanta was very composed, and made big plays down the stretch. That was without Clint Capela then, too, who suffered a knee injury in-game.

Glancing at the play-in games, though, there were still positives for Darius Garland‘s performances, and even with an off shooting game against the Hawks, his playmaking shouldn’t be discounted.

Garland had somewhat of a mixed bag in the Cavs play-in games, but those experiences will go a long way for him from a growth standpoint.

Now, I get where plenty of Cavaliers fans are coming from in being disappointed after the Cavaliers blew that lead versus the Hawks in the second half. Them being without Capela makes that one sting more for many, too, I’d imagine.

That being said, the Cavs retaining their first-round pick in June’s 2022 NBA Draft is meaningful, as that was lottery-protected for this year in the trade for Caris LeVert with the Indiana Pacers (and 2023 is the same). And while it’s not formal postseason experience yet, I do believe that Garland and other young Cavs, such as Evan Mobley and Isaac Okoro, can still benefit from these play-in game losses looking onward.

The team had its inconsistencies, and head coach J.B. Bickerstaff not giving Cedi Osman or Lamar Stevens any playing time versus Atlanta I thought was puzzling, but it is what it is.

In Garland’s case, he had his struggles as well, as I thought he was forcing the issue too often at Brooklyn, along with Caris LeVert in that one, both especially in the first half, and Garland was 9-of-27 from the field versus Atlanta. He did end up with a heck of a second half effort at the Nets, and ended up with 34 big points on 13-of-24 shooting overall then, however, he had six turnovers to five assists then, objectively.

I have to give Garland his credit still for nine assists against the Hawks, and his playmaking often allowed Lauri Markkanen to get into a good rhythm for the game, in which he had 26 points and shot 6-of-12 from three-point range. As we also alluded to, Garland’s shot-making, along with his drives both was crucial in regards to the Cavs climbing right back into that game at the Nets on Tuesday, before the team eventually lost by 7.

Overall, though, this introduction to postseason play, albeit just play-in exposure, I do think will pay off for Garland as a key leader for this Cavaliers team moving forward, along with Mobley, Okoro and others. That playoff-type intensity and Garland and other young guys seeing what it takes to win in those situations from others, such as Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Trae Young, and staying the course in games should pay dividends for the Cavs looking onward, and leading into the offseason.

These play-in experiences can go a long way for the team and Garland maybe even more so as its primary floor general moving forward into his fourth season, and the same goes for Bickerstaff, for what it’s worth. But I’m not going to grill Bickerstaff right now, considering how he’s been key for turning this Cavaliers team around.

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So, despite this Friday’s loss stinging, the Cavs do have their first-rounder in 2022 now officially, and these play-in games can still be growth experiences for the 22-year-old Garland and others. I don’t gloss over that.