‘I just feel like his feel is elite’ – What they’re saying about the Cavaliers

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Chauncey Billups can see it.

The fans might not see it, even some players might not see it, but the great ones, they see it.

What Billups – a 2004 NBA champion and the Portland Trail Blazers head coach – sees is Darius Garland’s unique ability to adapt and control the game. His vision, his awareness, his feel.

“It’s incredible,” Billups said. “I’m a really big fan of Darius. His feel for the game is very underrated. Obviously, he can make shots, he has the crafty handle and every shot that you need with the floaters. He can do it all.

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

Those were Billups’ comments an hour before his Blazers squared off against the Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Wednesday night, a game Cleveland won handy, 114-96.

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Garland began the game 1 of 6, coming off a previous game where he had made his first six shots. But the sour shooting didn’t prevent him from getting his teammates involved. He found Jarrett Allen three times as part of his career-high six assists in the first quarter to help the Cavaliers pull out to a 28-21 lead.

“He just does a good job of reading coverages,” Billups said after the game. “He does a good job of controlling tempo for them. He does a good job of when he shoots and when he, you know, puts his head down and tries to go make 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, can’t really pressure him because of his handles, he is pretty clever.”

Garland shredded 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

Boosted by a strong offensive first half from Donovan Mitchell and Jarrett Allen, Cleveland buckled down on the defensive end, led by the rugged play of Lamar Stevens. Portland had 13 first-half turnovers and was turned away on multiple attempts to trim the lead.

“I didn’t love our decision making in the game,” Billups said. “I thought their physicality really hurt us in the halfcourt. Blowing up screens, top locking screens. Bully coverage, I thought it impacted our decision making and the quality of shots that we got. We kept fighting, we kept going, but it was just too much.”

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

Cleveland held Portland to just 21 points in the final quarter on 7-of-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 being out of the Western Conference

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

“Very happy about that,” Billups said jokingly. “I knew when the trade was going down, I was happy for him.

“I was like, ‘Bye, man, see you later, man.’ Happy to see the success that he is having and not surprised at all. It’s been great and I was happy for him to be coming here. JB (Bickerstaff) is one of the good coaches in the league and it just worked out perfectly.”

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

“He had it going, had it going early,” Billups said. “Six of 10 from 3. We knew he was going to be aggressive. He’s the guy for them to go score, and he obviously had a big night.”

Allen added 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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