Garland's clutch 3-pointer helps Cavs clinch playoff spot | Jeff Schudel

Apr. 12—Playing in the shadow of Donovan Mitchell the last two seasons has not been easy for Cavaliers guard Darius Garland.

This was Garland's team. Then just before training camp in 2022, the Cavs acquired Mitchell in a blockbuster trade with the Jazz and suddenly Garland was playing second violin in the Cavaliers' orchestra.

Garland's 25-foot stepback jumper with 50 seconds to play April 12 gave the Cavaliers a 123-118 lead over the pesky Pacers. It was the final dagger in a 129-120 victory that clinched a playoff spot with one game to play.

After everything the Cavaliers overcame this season — injuries, inconsistent lineups, a difficult road schedule in March, but mostly the injuries — it was like the team breathed a collective sigh of relief after beating the Pacers.

"Right from the start, the guys understood what was in front of us," Coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. "They played with execution and attention to detail. They played a spirited game. It wasn't just the pretty stuff. They did the difficult stuff time and time again."

The Cavaliers led by 14 points, 45-31, in the second quarter for their biggest lead of the game. The game was down to 120-118 before Garland hit his clutch 3-pointer.

Jarrett Allen was 13 of 14 from the field. The only shot he missed was a layup, and the next time down he slammed home a dunk with vengeance. He pulled down 13 rebounds for his 42nd double-double of the season. Mitchell is the head of the snake, but Allen is its heart.

Having to fight the surge by the Pacers and coming out on top encapsulated what the Cavaliers have gone through all season. With one game to play, the Cavaliers can finish no lower than fourth in the East. They will finish third if they beat the Hornets and Milwaukee loses to Orlando on April 14. The Cavs can move up to No. 2 if they win, the Knicks lose to the Bulls and Milwaukee loses.

The Cavaliers' first-round opponent won't be determined until after games April 14 conclude. However it unfolds, they are assured of home-court advantage in the first round of a best-of-seven series.

"One thing I don't want to go unnoticed is all these guys (deserve praise)," Bickerstaff said. "For this group of guys to go through all the things they've gone through this year, all the adversity, all the injuries, they should really be celebrated.

"For our guys to go through all that stuff and be able to clinch home court, I think we should take a minute to pause and acknowledge how much they overcame and were still able to achieve."

The Cavaliers will finish 49-33 if they beat the Hornets. They were 51-31 in the regular season last year.


When: 1 p.m., April 14

Where: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse

Records: Hornets 20-61, Cavaliers 48-33

TV: Bally Sports Sports