New year, new Cleveland Cavaliers? Well, it was certainly a new year for Donovan Mitchell - who had a franchise record 71 points tonight, which was more than historic. For context: only five players have scored more than 70 points in an NBA game. For reference, here’s the list:
- Wilt Chamberlain - 100 points
- Kobe Bryant - 81 points
- Wilt Chamberlain - 78 points
- David Thompson - 73 points
- Wilt Chamberlain - 73 points, twice
- Wilt Chamberlain - 72 points
- David Robinson - 71 points
- Elgin Baylor - 71 points
- Donovan Mitchell - 71 points
Originally, this was going to be a recap about what was and wasn’t good about tonight’s game against Chicago. Most of the words went to how Lamar Stevens isn’t functioning well as the starting small forward for Cleveland. Mitchell putting the team on his back was only going to be a small footnote since he only had 15 points in the first half and was struggling with how the Bulls were defending him at the point of attack. Chicago was leading leading 65-47 at halftime and this game felt like it was going to be over.
But, holy cow Mitchell came out the gates in the third quarter and started to turn it into a ball game. He had 24 points in the third quarter alone and got to the free throw line 12 times, picking apart the defense the Bulls was throwing at them.
Mind you, despite the Herculean efforts from Mitchell, Cleveland was still down 96-91 entering the final frame. It felt like Chicago was daring Mitchell to beat them on his own and somewhere in Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse a finger on a monkey’s paw curled. Since, like Ralph Wiggum, the Bulls were then in danger.
Mitchell scored 18 points on his own and also assisted for 16 of Cleveland’s 39 fourth quarter points. For those at home, Mitchell was a involved in 87.2% of all points scored in the final frame of regulation. One of Mitchell’s biggest shots of the night came in the closing moments of the game, where he forced a miss at the free throw line, grabbed his own miss, threw it up and somehow, someway it went in the basket, tying the game.
That make forced overtime against Chicago and firmly swung momentum back firmly in favor of the Cavaliers. Mitchell didn’t relent in the extra period either, mind you, as he continuously kept breaking the collective backs of the Bulls - scoring 13 points on perfect shooting.
“Obviously, he went above and beyond but he wanted to show it mattered,” said head coach J.B. Bickerstaff postgame. “Again, I don’t know how many guys in our league who, in the moment, when it’s needed, can go out and have the performance he did tonight.
“It wasn’t one of those games where we were in control or it was back and forth or it was a blowout in our favor. Every single play he made was a play that was necessary. I don’t know how many guys in our league that can do what he did tonight.”
Overall, Mitchell scored or assisted on 99 of Cleveland’s 145 points in this win over Chicago. Like Bickerstaff said, every single thing Mitchell did on the floor had a purpose and the Cavaliers would not have been in this game, let alone won it, without him out there.
Cleveland big man Kevin Love called it the greatest single-game performance he’s ever seen and Love’s seen plenty all-time great moments while he’s been in Cleveland. For context, Love has seen Kyrie Irving score 57 points against the San Antonio Spurs, the original franchise record. He’s seen LeBron James match it against the Washington Wizards. He’s seen James and Irving score 41 points a piece in Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals. He’s also was there to witness what James and Irving did in Game 7 as well.
Clearly, Love’s seen a lot of great games and for him to say that about Mitchell’s performance crystalizes how significant this game was. It’ll forever go on the pantheon of Cavaliers basketball and more than likely will be something no player on Cleveland’s roster ever comes close to matching ever again. I’m fortunate to have been there to see it in person, as was everyone else in attendance tonight.
Now, how the heck do you follow-up what happened tonight against the Bulls on Wednesday against the Phoenix Suns?
Up next: The Cavs are back home on Wednesday night against the Phoenix Suns. Tip-off is at 7:00 PM EST.