Thus far this season, the Cleveland Cavaliers have had their growing pains in a 3-4 start to 2023-24. Cleveland lost three of their first contests, and on Friday night, the Cavaliers’ lackluster first half led to them losing their first game of the NBA In-Season Tournament at the Indiana Pacers.
Part of the reasoning for Cleveland’s slow start was injuries, though. Jarrett Allen missed the Cavaliers’ first five games of the season, and Darius Garland had missed Cleveland’s last four games prior to their matchup at Indiana on Friday night. It didn’t help that Cleveland opened the season with three games in four nights, either, and other guys have missed time, leading to constant reshuffling of lineups.
Fortunately, both Allen and Garland that past game under their belts at the Pacers, which was meaningful, and on Sunday versus the Golden State Warriors, both looked more comfortable. The Cavs as a group did as well, and the Wine and Gold got a much needed win then, thanks largely to their defense, and it was nice to see both Allen and Garland make plays throughout.
As it pertains to Garland, in particular, the team should be able to get going now, provided he keeps getting back into gear and makes sensible plays as a passer and scorer.
Garland missed time because of a hamstring strain which was first sustained in preseason, and while he played in the opener at the Brooklyn Nets, he would miss the next four contests. And as was previously noted, he’s appeared in the last two outings.
With hamstring ailments being difficult, and especially tricky for a shifty and quick player like Garland, there was going to be rust. That’s been evident early on in his play, as at Brooklyn and on Friday at Indiana, Garland did make some things happen; he just didn’t seem to quite have his normal juice.
In three games thus far, Garland has had a solid 18 assists, but he’s also had 16 turnovers. On Sunday against Golden State, he had six turnovers as well.
Garland has had some instances where he’s forced passes a bit, and/or has been caught in the air and tried to thread the needle or feed the weak side, at times leading to live-ball turnovers. And as a scorer, he’s been largely off as a perimeter shooter, as he’s made only one three thus far of 12 attempts (an 8.3 percent clip); he’s also zero-of-six on catch-and-shoot three-point attempts, per NBA.com’s shot tracking data. He was zero-of-five from deep against the Warriors on Sunday, and six-of-17 (35.3 percent) from the field in that one.
It’ll likely take some more time until he’s fully back, per se, which is to be expected as he gets back into the swing of things. However, there still have been positive signs, and he should get more comfortable in coming games and hopefully, more in-rhythm.
Garland had some bad turnovers versus the Warriors, and seemed a bit off at points versus the Pacers, but he has made some good stuff happen when he’s attacked and gotten downhill in transition and in response to hard closeouts in set offense.
He can consistently get to his floater and/or driving game to give Cleveland juice, and off that on Sunday, despite his shooting woes from the outside, he was able to get the Cavs going by drawing free throws. He went 12-of-13 from the foul line as a result of that assertive play, and that factored into Garland being a plus-15 in a 115-104 win.
With him doing that, he did open up some interior looks for guys there, and in other sequences, generated productive ball-swings, leading to good perimeter shooting looks for Donovan Mitchell and Georges Niang, among others. That’s something that should play out more in coming games in Cleveland’s upcoming Western road trip, and with Garland back, that should bode well for Evan Mobley, Max Strus and several other Cavs.
Granted, the deep ball for Garland is an area he has to rebound, and as he gets back into the flow of games, with how polished he is as a shooter and shot-maker, the early misses are nothing to be worried about. He’ll be just fine.
Generally, the key for Cleveland is, as Garland gets himself back on track, his presence as an offensive catalyst makes those around him better, and he eases some of the pressure on Mitchell, and Caris LeVert, to some extent.
With DG the PG back, the Cavaliers should be able to have less instances where they’re stagnant, and as he knocks the rust off, he should allow guys like Strus and Niang to have less of a burden in making plays as on-ball players themselves. If Garland gets himself right, that should help the Cavs get going here.
Cleveland’s upcoming road trip has tough games at the Oklahoma City Thunder, Warriors and then Sacramento Kings, and they’ll have to take care of business to conclude that at the Portland Trail Blazers. But Sunday’s win, and this team getting healthier should help the Cavs, and with their offensive engine back in Garland, they could start to hit their stride getting deeper into November.