The Cleveland Cavaliers have been one of the NBA’s biggest surprises this season, and third-year guard Darius Garland is a big reason why.
Heading into the finale of a season-high, six-game road trip Saturday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Garland is coming off two of the best games of his career and the Cavaliers have won three consecutive games and four of their first five on the trek.
In a 114-109 win at San Antonio on Friday, Garland had 32 points, eight assists and four rebounds. Two days earlier in Utah, Garland had his first career triple-double — 11 points, a career-high 14 assists and 10 rebounds in a 111-91 win over the Jazz.
“It was just play after play that he made and courage to keep the ball in his hand, seek the ball out to make the play,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of Garland’s performance Friday. “We’ve got absolute trust in him, and his job is to go finish for us.”
Saturday’s meeting with the Thunder will also be a matchup of two of the NBA’s top rookies, Cleveland’s Evan Mobley and Oklahoma City’s Josh Giddey.
Mobley is averaging 14.9 points, eight rebounds and 2.7 assists, emerging as the Rookie of the Year favorite.
Giddey, meanwhile, has been a big reason for the Thunder’s recent offensive success.
Oklahoma City has turned in two of its three highest-scoring games of the season in the past two games, including a season-high total in a 130-109 road victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday.
Over the past six games since returning from a three-game stint in the NBA’s health and safety protocol, Giddey is averaging 14.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, eight assists and 1.7 steals while shooting 48 percent from the floor.
“When we get into the paint, good things are happening,” Giddey said. “I think it’s the other end of the floor we’ve got to clean up on — defensively sticking to coverages and locking in on that end.”
Overall, Giddey is averaging 11.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.4 assists at the midway point of the season.
The only rookies in NBA history to average at least 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists were Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson and Ben Simmons.
Thunder coach Mark Daigneault isn’t getting caught up in the numbers Giddey — or any of his other players — are posting but said he liked the direction the offense is heading, even before the last two games.
“We’re trying to build a style and we’re trying to build an identity and we’re trying to build it on the part that we can control, and shot-making is the last part of the play, you don’t really have control over it,” Daigneault said.
Saturday’s matchup is the first of two meetings between the teams this season, the other coming Jan. 22 in Cleveland in the final game of the Thunder’s upcoming four-game road trip.
The Thunder have been without Isaiah Roby for the past five games due to the health protocol, while Kenrich Williams has missed the past two.
Cleveland’s Rajon Rondo has missed the past two games with right hamstring soreness.
–Field Level Media