After putting together one of the NBA’s best defenses, hopes were high that the Cleveland Cavaliers would finally return to the NBA playoffs for the first time since LeBron James left the team in 2018.
But instead of finishing sixth in the Eastern Conference and making the postseason outright, Cleveland claimed seventh place and had to go through the play-in tournament.
It lost a close contest to Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and the struggling Brooklyn Nets, but it only got worse, as the Cavs ultimately fell to the Atlanta Hawks.
Darius Garland, the team’s star point guard and leader, admitted that he feels bad about losing in the tournament and not reaching the playoffs, and it appears he will be using the experience as motivation for next season.
Losing is as much a part of the NBA experience, especially for a young team like the Cavs.
There is an old saying that one learns more from losing than from winning, and there is plenty for the Cavs to learn from their humbling experience in this year’s play-in tournament.
Here is what the first-time All-Star told Tyler R. Tynes in an article that was published in GQ on Tuesday about what his goals are for next season:
“Getting into the playoffs, for sure,” said Garland. “I want to make it to the first or second round. That’s my number one goal. Having that play-in game experience and not getting into the playoffs, I was kind of hurt about it. But, next year, we’ll be back better and a lot healthier.”
It’s notable that Garland only mentioned a team goal as far as making the playoffs and not any individual goals, which is a trait of a true servant leader.
He also said that merely the experience of being in the play-in tournament will help moving forward.
“It was getting that experience and I didn’t want the season to end,” Garland said about what hurt about losing the tournament. “Being there, feeling the playoff experience, that atmosphere with the whole city behind you, you could barely hear in the arena. It was lit the whole time, in Brooklyn [and in] the second game against Atlanta at home. That was probably the most intense basketball I’ve ever had in my life. So it was cool having that experience, but I definitely want to get into the playoffs.”
The Cavs Have To Learn How To Close
Losing to Brooklyn was disappointing enough, but Cavs fans can soothe themselves with the knowledge that the Nets were simply more talented and had more experienced veterans.
Garland can also take pride in knowing that he had a great game that night with 34 points on 13-of-24 shooting and nearly matching Irving’s output.
Darius Garland dropped 24 PTS in the second-half on his way to 34 points.
The @cavs will host the winner of Hornets/Hawks Friday at 7:30pm/et on ESPN for the opportunity to advance to the #NBA Playoffs presented by Google Pixel. pic.twitter.com/4fBJDAcmpA
— NBA (@NBA) April 13, 2022
But the following game versus Atlanta really hurts.
The Cavs came out smoking, playing inspired defense and playing fast-break basketball on the other end, and they built a double-digit lead by the end of the first quarter.
Darius Garland’s highlights Vs Atlanta Hawks. #LetEmKnow pic.twitter.com/gjNHwHNZoC
— Mack Perry (@DevaronPerry) April 16, 2022
They still led 61-51 at halftime, and it looked like perhaps they could look forward to a first-round playoff matchup against the Miami Heat.
But Trae Young and company flipped the script in the third quarter, holding Cleveland to just 23 points, and it only got worse, as the Cavs could muster only 17 points in the final frame.
In their 107-101 loss, Garland went just 9-of-27 from the field for 21 points, and although he had nine assists, he was thoroughly outplayed by Young.
With continued improvement from Garland and Evan Mobley, plus the return of Collin Sexton (assuming he is signed to a long-term contract this summer), the Cavs could climb the standings and reach the postseason in 2023.
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