The Cleveland Cavaliers stumbled out of the gate against the New York Knicks in Game One. A no-show from the bench was particularly disappointing, with the reserve quartet of Caris LeVert, Ricky Rubio, Cedi Osman, and Dean Wade coming for just 14 points.
And after the disappointing loss, JB Bickerstaff didn’t mince words about his bench’s lackluster showing. Heading into Game Two, Cleveland’s skipper called on the second unit to add a spark, make a bucket, something.
It’s safe to say they understood the assignment. The bench unit pumped out 36 points, 24 by way of LeVert, who played 40 minutes off the bench after Isaac Okoro ran into foul trouble early. The Cavs finished with a comfortable 107-90 victory.
After the game, Bickerstaff explained how defenders are essentially tasked with picking their poison when LeVert is hot.
“He’s rangey and he’s aggressive and he’s kind of offbeat, so I think he’s hard to read when he is using his hands and he’s active on the ball, it’s difficult to figure out where exactly he’s coming from,” Bickerstaff said. “So I think it kind of throws your rhythm off a little bit.”
Bickerstaff also explained how LeVert manages to find opportunities despite playing behind one of the league’s most electric backcourts in Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland.
“There’s just so many people you got to guard, you know what I mean?” Bickerstaff told reporters. “You got Darius and Donovan in space, so now teams have tough decisions to make on who they’re going to help off of. And Caris has the ability to play make, he has the ability to find open guys, but then you know what he’s capable of as a scorer as well. So it just puts people in a tough spot.”
Don’t count on him to carry the team every night — LeVert managed just three points in Game One — but the guard is more than capable of serving as a microwave scorer for the Cavs from time to time. Though he’s averaging just 12.1 points per game, he’s exploded for 20+ points more than a handful of times this season.
Darius Garland Praises Caris LeVert After Cavs Stomp Knicks
Bickerstaff wasn’t the only Cavalier to praise LeVert’s big night.
“It is great to see ‘Vert just out there just doing his thing,” Garland told reporters postgame. “He’s an X-factor for us. A lot of people don’t think that he can just come off the bench and just put up some big numbers like that, but he can on any given night and he’s going to defend his butt off on the other end of the floor. So I mean, we really need it from ‘Vert.”
For his part, Garland chipped in 32 points and dished out seven assists, nearly doubling his point total from Game One.
Donovan Mitchell Praises Darius Garland’s Epic Night
Garland made just the second playoff appearance in his career on Tuesday. Since being drafted fifth overall by the Cavaliers in the 2019 NBA draft, Garland has seen his fair share of trials and tribulations during the team’s rebuild.
But the former All-Star was more than ready for the challenge of late-April basketball. Game One was hardly the coming out party he hoped, but Garland’s teammate explained how the former Vanderbilt Commodore learned turned the rough night into motivation.
“He was really quiet [after the Game One loss],” Mitchell told cleveland.com. “I’ve been there before, and I know what it looks like. He had that look in his eye yesterday. You just get into this place. You go to this space. And he went there. He didn’t play the way he wanted in Game 1. He puts a lot of pressure on himself but that’s what makes him so good. He is usually loud and joking around. He was locked in. He kept saying, ‘I will be better. I’m going to step it up. I need to step it up.’ And he did.”
The entire Cavs team made good on its promise to step up on Tuesday. They’ll look to keep the momentum going on Friday in New York.