NBA

“I feel his feeling is elite” – What the Cavaliers are saying

“I feel his feeling is elite” – What the Cavaliers are saying

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Chauncey Billups can see it.

The fans might not see it, even some players might not see it, but the big guys, they do.

What Billups, the 2004 NBA champion and head 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 amazing,” Billups said. “I’m a big fan of Darius. His feel for the game is highly underrated. He can obviously make shots, has a crafty handle and all the shots you need with floaters. He can do it all.

“But I just feel like his feeling is elite. Most people don’t talk about it, and you probably don’t even see it to be honest with you. But I’m telling you, he’s a talented young player.”

Those were Billups’ comments an hour before his Blazers took on the knights at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Wednesday night, a Cleveland game won easily, 114-96.

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Garland started the game 1-for-6, following an earlier game where he had made his first six shots. But the bitter shooting did not stop him from involving his colleagues. He found Jarrett Allen three times as part of his career-high six assists in the first quarter to help the Cavaliers to a 28-21 lead.

“He just does a good job reading coverages,” Billups said after the game. “He does a good job of controlling the tempo for them. He does a good job when he shoots and when he, you know, puts his head down and tries to go make plays. He does a really good job of mixing it up. He plays at a really good pace, You can’t rush him, you can’t pressure him because of his handles, he’s pretty smart.”

Garland shook off his brief shooting woes by scoring 10 of Cleveland’s first 12 points to open the second quarter.

The All-Star point guard finished with 24 points and 12 assists, his third double-double of the season.

On the Cavaliers’ defensive effort

Buoyed by a strong first half offensively from Donovan Mitchell and Jarrett Allen, Cleveland buckled down on the defensive end, led by the tough play of Lamar Stevens. Portland had 13 turnovers in the first half and was turned away on multiple attempts to cut the lead.

“I didn’t love our decision making in the game,” Billups said. “I thought his physicality really hurt us in the half court. Explosive screens, top blocking screens. Bully coverage, I thought it affected our decision making and the quality of shots we got. We just kept battling , we continued, but it was too much.”

Portland’s Jerami Grant scored 21 points in the first half, but in addition to self-inflicted injuries, the clamps tightened as he was held scoreless the rest of the night.

Cleveland held Portland to just 21 points in the final quarter on 7-for-20 shooting (35%).

The Cavaliers entered the night ranked third in defensive rating at 107.9. They have held their opponents under 103 points in four of the last five games and under 97 points in two of the last four.

On Donovan Mitchell out of the Western Conference

Mitchell made a name for himself in Utah, but most Western Conference coaches are happy he’s now playing in the East. Add Billups, a second-year head coach, to that list. His team will see the three-time All-Star just one more time this season.

“Very happy about that,” Billups joked. “I knew when the trade went down, I was happy for him.

“I was like, ‘Bye, man, see you later, man.’ Glad to see the success he’s having and no surprise at all. He’s been great and I’m glad he came here. JB (Bickerstaff) is one of the good coaches of the league and it has worked perfectly.”

Mitchell finished with a game-high 34 points, including 6-for-10 from 3-point range. Billups is just one of the latest coaches to get a first look at the Garland-Mitchell combo.

“I had it going, I had it early,” Billups said. “Six of 10 from 3. We knew he would be aggressive. He’s the man who has to mark them and he obviously had a big night.”

Allen had 24 points and 13 rebounds, his ninth double-double of the season, while Jusuf Nurkic led the Trail Blazers with 22 points and six rebounds.

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