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Darius Garland Only Needed One Functional Eye To Torch Boston

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 2: Darius Garland #10 of the Cleveland Cavaliers handles the ball against the Boston Celtics on November 2, 2022 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

What has nine eyes and six wins? The Cleveland Cavaliers’ starting lineup.

Darius Garland made his triumphant return to the Cavs on Wednesday night after an eye-poke from Gary Trent Jr. in the second quarter of Cleveland’s season opener forced him to sit out two weeks. Missing six games may sound like a lot over an eye-poke, though he’s pretty lucky to be A) back on the court, and B) still in possession of all five senses after what sounds like a pretty hellish injury. Garland turned out to have suffered a left eye laceration, avoiding structural damage but still having to deal with a gash on the inside of his pupil that spewed enough blood into his eye that he couldn’t see.

“Yeah, I was super scared,” Garland said of his initial reaction to the injury. “When it first happened, I rolled over, I felt blood coming out of my eye. So that’s when I got really nervous. And I was ready for surgery in Toronto. I was expecting that. I was expecting stitches and being out a couple of months.” Garland only had to miss six games, all of which the Cavs won. He returned to practice after a week, despite having his left eye basically swollen shut. Garland encountered a problem, which is that he couldn’t really see that well when dribbling to his right. When analysts and coaches talk about a player having good “court vision,” the second-order, and more important, trait they’re identifying is that the player has a consistent awareness of where all of their teammates are, and can foresee the next few seconds of a play before it develops. The first-order trait here, basic enough they would never really have to specify it, is that the player literally has good vision in the sense that they can parse stimuli and perceive the world around them with a fine degree of precision. Garland admitted not quite being able to see everything around him on a court, yet he balled out against one of the best defenses in the NBA.

Donovan Mitchell says he told Garland before the game that he wanted him “to take the first six shots of the game.” Garland was aggressive from the jump despite, again, having severely limited peripheral vision. He logged 14 points on perfect 3-for-3 shooting from deep. Garland wound up with 29 points and 12 assists in 42 minutes, and that last number may be the most impressive, because he hasn’t played and has barely practiced since Oct. 19. His shiftiness was just as dangerous as it was before he got hurt.

Garland was maybe the biggest breakout star of the 2021-22 season, though the Cavs pushed their chips in to trade for Donovan Mitchell in the offseason. Would Garland like playing alongside another short ballhandler, who also liked to cook one-on-one and make plays off the dribble? Wednesday night was the first full game the two have played together, the first meaningful basketball we can use to formulate an answer: yes.

In almost any scenario where there are concerns about whether a cadre of stars can share the floor together, the operative factor tends to be whether or not the supporting stars can space the floor alongside whoever is the best player. Russell Westbrook can’t shoot, so there’s a a real limit to his utility off the ball, as LeBron James is better on the ball. Ditto for Ben Simmons in Brooklyn. When James Harden, not Simmons, filled the third star spot, Brooklyn’s offense was historically effective. Chris Bosh warped his game in Miami to fit around the staggering on-ball talent of a then-bricked-up James and peak Dwyane Wade. Both Mitchell and Garland are knockdown shooters on high volume, especially off the catch, which is the exact scenario having another ace passer on the floor creates all the time.

Where Garland went hard early, Mitchell took over to close it out, scoring nine points in the last two minutes of regulation to help force overtime. The exclamation point of the victory was suitably collaborative.

The Cavs have gotten one game from Garland, are still in the process of integrating Mitchell, and are heavily reliant on a spindly second-year player in Evan Mobley to anchor their defense, yet they have the league’s second-best defense and sixth-best offense. Dean Wade and Kevin Love and killing it off the bench. The vibes are splendid. Also, at some point, Garland will regain his binocular vision abilities, which will presumably help his game, though if he can do 29-12 on one eye, maybe not. My point here is, they’re a good team, but more importantly, a fun one. Mitchell and Garland seem to enhance the best parts of each others’ games, and I hope they stay on national TV all season.

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