Cleveland, Ohio – Chauncey Billups can see it.
Fans may not see it, even some players may not see it, but the greats, they see it.
What Billups – the 2004 NBA champion and coach of the Portland Trail Blazers – sees is Darius Garland’s unique ability to adapt and control the game. His vision, his awareness, his feeling.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Billups. “I really admire Darius. His sense of the game is underrated. He can obviously make shots, he has the dexterous grip and every shot you need with floats. He can do it all.
“But I just feel like his feel is elite. Most people don’t talk about it, and you probably don’t see it until you’re honest with yourself. But I’ll tell you, he’s a talented young player.”
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Garland started game 1 of 6, after coming off an earlier game where he made the first of his 6 shots. But the painful shooting didn’t stop him from getting his teammates involved. Jarrett Allen found three times as part of his career six assists in the first quarter to help the Cavaliers to a 28-21 lead.
“He’s doing a good job of reading the coverage,” Billups said after the game. “He does a good job of controlling their tempo. He does a good job when he shoots and when, you know, he puts his head down and tries to go for a play. He does a really good job of mixing that up. He plays at a really good pace, you can’t really speed him up, no You can really squeeze it because of its handles, it’s very smart.”
Garland ripped up his short shooting woes by scoring 10 of Cleveland’s first 12 points to open the second quarter.
The All-Star guard finished with 24 points and 12 assists, his third double-double of the season.
On a Cavaliers defensive effort
Buoyed by a strong offense in the first half from Donovan Mitchell and Jarrett Allen, Cleveland fell to defensive end led by Lamar Stevens. Portland had 13 turnovers in the first half and was sacked on multiple attempts to narrow the lead.
“I didn’t like the decision making in the game,” said Billups. “I thought their body really hurt us on the half court. Blowing up the screens, the overhead lock screens. Covering the bully, I thought it affected our decision-making and the quality of the shots we got. We kept fighting, we kept marching, but it was too much.”
Portland’s Jerami Grant scored 21 points in the first half, but in addition to self-inflicted cuts, the clamps tightened as he was held scoreless the rest of the night.
Cleveland held Portland to only 21 points in the fourth quarter on 7-of-20 (35%).
The Cavaliers entered the night ranked third in the defensive rankings at 107.9. They’ve held their opponents under 103 points in four of their last five games and under 97 points in two of the last four.
On Donovan Mitchell’s exit from the Western Conference
Mitchell made a name for himself at Utah, but most Western Conference coaches are glad he now plays in the East. Add Billups, second year head coach, to that list. His team will see a three-time All-Star again this season.
“Very happy about that,” Billups joked. “I knew when trade was going downhill, I was happy for him.
“I was like, Bye, man, see you later, man.” Glad to see the success he has had and not surprised at all. He was great and I was so glad he came here. JB (Bickerstaff) is one of the good coaches in the league and it worked out perfectly.”
Mitchell finished the game with a total of 34 points, including 6-of-10 from 3-point range. Billups is just one of the most recent trainers to get their first look at the Garland-Mitchell collection.
“He was going, he was going early,” said Billups. “Six out of 10 out of 3. We knew he was going to be aggressive. He’s the guy for them to score goals, and he’s clearly had a big night.”
Allen added 24 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, his ninth double this season, while Yusuf Nurkic led the Trail Blazers with 22 points and six rebounds.
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