CLEVELAND — Darius Garland couldn’t change what happened in a disappointing playoff debut.
On Tuesday night, Garland made sure he didn’t repeat it.
Setting the tone with his aggressiveness from the start, Garland scored 26 of his 32 points in the first half and the Cavaliers evened their Eastern Conference playoff series against New York at one game apiece with a 107-90 victory.
“That’s the All-Star we know, and it was good to see,” said Cavs guard Donovan Mitchell, one of many who urged Garland to be more assertive. “He came out with a purpose. There was just a different look in his eye.”
Garland scored 15 points in the second quarter, when Cleveland tightened down defensively and dominated New York, forcing nine turnovers on the way to opening a 20-point halftime lead. The Cavs pushed their lead to 29 in the fourth.
Darius Garland (32 PTS, 7 AST, 6-10 3PM) was on fire in Game 2 as Cleveland secured the win!
The Cavaliers will be in New York for Game 3 with the series evened up at 1-1 🍿
CLE/NYK Game 3 ➡ Friday, 8:30pm/et, ABC pic.twitter.com/7y7eMax20T
— NBA (@NBA) April 19, 2023
For two days, Garland had beaten himself up for his performance in Game 1, when he didn’t attempt a shot in the fourth quarter and finished with one assist in 43 minutes. During film sessions, his teammates pointed out moments when he needed to shoot. Everywhere he went, he heard the same message.
“Everybody in the building told me to go be aggressive, go shoot the ball,” he said. “I watched the film from the first game and seeing some opportunities where I can go get mine and go be aggressive and that’s what I just tried to do today.”
Cleveland’s blowout ended with a hard foul and some questions about why New York’s starters were still on the floor.
With the Knicks down by 23, Julius Randle went in for a breakaway dunk and was hit by Cavs center Jarrett Allen and New York’s All-Star forward fell awkwardly out of bounds. Randle was upset by the contact and exchanged words with several Cavs players and coach J.B. Bickerstaff.
“I thought it was a little unnecessary,” Randle said. “I understand that in the playoffs, you don’t give up on plays. But typically, you run across the body. Not like that.”
Allen was called for flagrant foul, which Bickerstaff felt was undeserved.
“They kept playing hard. They kept running through passing lanes. Why would one team play hard and not the other,” he said. “There was nothing dirty about the play. It wasn’t a flagrant foul. He contested a shot at the rim. It’s that simple.”
Caris LeVert scored 24 points off the bench and Mitchell added 17 and a career playoff-high 13 assists for the Cavs, who were much more physical than in Game 1 and went toe to toe with the Knicks.
Randle scored 22 points and Jalen Brunson added 20 for New York, which got the split it needed in rowdy Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse to head home for Game 3 at Madison Square Garden on Friday night.
“You know what to expect,” Randle said. “It’s the Garden. It’s the Garden.”
The Cavs matched the Knicks’ physicality from the outset, winning the 50/50 balls that went to New York in the opener. And if handling Cleveland’s new-found toughness wasn’t enough of a challenge, the Knicks bashed each other.
During one sequence in the second quarter as the Cavs were beginning to pull away, Randle turned to run up the floor and accidentally smacked Brunson in the face, causing his teammate to recoil in pain.
Garland inflicted his own damage.
The 23-year-old was uncharacteristically timid in Game 1 and heard about it from fans and teammates. Following practice Monday, he had a deep conversation with Mitchell, who urged him to be let loose.
Garland got the message.
He drained a pair of 3-pointers during a 13-4 run in the second quarter and then showed no fear when he drove to the basket and tried to dunk over 7-foot Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein, who got away with goaltending while fouling Cleveland’s guard.
“I’ve never seen him try to dunk on anyone, let alone a seven-footer,” Mitchell said.
The Cavs bench erupted at seeing Garland’s bravado, and Mitchell slapped his hands before urging the sellout crowd to recognize him. The moment seemed to rattle the Knicks as New York’s Josh Hart was called for a technical foul.