CLEVELAND — Donovan Mitchell just kept scoring.
And scoring. And scoring.
In went another 3-pointer, then another, and another. By audio, it was the swish of the net, followed by the roar of the crowd, and it was a tune that played on repeat nearly the entire night.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love has seen some incredible individual performances during his 15-year NBA career. He’s watched Kyrie Irving turn in a couple of 50-point games. He’s been a witness to many of LeBron James’ best career nights.
But he’s never seen anything like what Mitchell did Monday night at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. In fact, very few in NBA history ever have.
Seventy-one points. Fifty-five points after halftime. A wild play to send the game into overtime. And a final five minutes in which Mitchell simply couldn’t miss and outscored the Chicago Bulls by himself, leading the Cavs to a 145-134 comeback win.
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In doing so, Mitchell became just the seventh player in NBA history to reach the 70-point plateau in a single game. No Cavs player had ever reached 60. And no active player has a higher single-game point total.
“In my 15 years, that’s the best performance I’ve ever seen,” Love said after the game. “And I’ve been a part of — I’ve seen some special ones. I was talking about Kyrie here against Portland when he had 55. LeBron in Game 1 of the 2018 Finals. Fifty-seven for Kyrie in San Antonio. But this one takes the cake … I was saying, our group text from 2016, I was like, ‘What was Donovan’s asking price?’ That was something special tonight. He’s one of what, seven players that have scored over 70? That’s elite company, I can only imagine those names.”
Into the record books
Those names: Wilt Chamberlain (six times, including a 100-point game in 1962), Kobe Bryant (81 in 2006), David Thompson (73 in 1978), Elgin Baylor (71, 1960), David Robinson (71, 1994) , Devin Booker (70, 2017). A 70-point game had only occurred three times in the last 45 years. And in that time, only Bryant’s legendary 81-point night topped Mitchell’s.
“It’s humbling. I’m speechless, to be honest with you,” Mitchell said. “Not only did I do that but I did it in an effort where we came back and won and it’s how we won. This is nuts. I’m extremely blessed and humbled that I’m in that company, in that group. I ‘ve always believed I can be one of the best players in this league but I have to keep working.
“This is a big milestone, but at the end of the day we have to continue. Those other guys (in the 70-point club) have all won at the highest level and that’s my ultimate goal. But to be there in the record books with them is truly incredible.”
It’s something Mitchell had only done as a virtual version of himself in video games.
“2K for sure,” Mitchell said, referencing the popular video game franchise. “Definitely, when I first got into the league, I played (2K) as the Jazz and I was just shooting it every time. I don’t think I did it this efficiently in 2K. But no, I never have. The closest I think I’ve got was the bubble maybe, when I had 57. But that was in a loss. So this one feels a lot better.”
Praise from LeBron
Mitchell also had 11 assists and eight rebounds, which Love pointed out after the game (in addition to jokingly noting that Mitchell did turn it over four times). To make Mitchell’s night even more rare, he scored or assisted on 99 of the Cavs’ 145 points. The only name that can top that in a single game in NBA history: Chamberlain, with 104 in 100-point game.
“Get out of the way,” Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff said when asked how he coaches a 71-point game. “Again, you try to see what they’re doing, and you try to figure out how you can continue to create opportunities for the hot hand. He didn’t need a lot of help from me tonight.”
Mitchell actually started the game ice cold. For most of the night, the Cavs faced a double-digit deficit and at one point trailed by 21 points. As Mitchell began heating up and pouring in points, the Cavs slowly chipped away at the Bulls’ lead. Mitchell reached such a scorching hot level that the Cavs began to play a game within a game: keep Mitchell on the floor but find ways to give him breathers as much as possible. Mitchell played every minute of the second half and overtime.
“I mean, he said he was good,” Bickerstaff said. “Again, we built a relationship based on trust and I told him, ‘Just keep talking to me.’ We tried to use our timeouts as wisely as we could to get him as many blows as we could.'”
Mitchell was treated to deafening MVP chants multiple times from the home crowd. After the game, Mitchell was being interviewed over the PA system. Cedi Osman took the mic and started his own MVP chant, egging the crowd on yet again.
“There’s not enough words, I’ve never been witness to a performance like that live,” Bickerstaff said. “I think we’ve seen some even on TV before, but we were treated tonight to one of the greatest performances in the history of the NBA. … There’s obviously been some great players in this league, but I mean, I don’t know, again, I don’t know how many guys are capable of doing what he did tonight.”
Luka Doncic-like play sends game to OT
And yet, despite Mitchell nearly scoring at will, the Cavs still trailed in the final moments of the fourth quarter. With 4.7 seconds left, Mitchell was sent to the free throw line with the Cavs down 130-127. He made the first free throw and needed to miss the second, hoping the Cavs could get a rebound. It’s something they had practiced before. Mitchell had Robin Lopez put into the game so that he and Jarrett Allen could be in the paint and possibly tip the ball back.
Mitchell threw up a high-arching attempt that bounced off the rim and to the right side. Instead of the several seven-footers in the lane, it was Mitchell who fought his way to the ball and as he fell to the floor he got the put-back layup to fall, tying it 130-130. Mitchell said that in all the times he had practiced that in his career, with previous teams, it had worked before, but never in which he was the one who got the rebound.
It was a play similar to the one that Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic recently pulled off, also in a situation that led to overtime. But while Doncic threw more of a line drive, Mitchell preferred the higher arching option. It worked to perfection for the Cavs.
“Yeah, because for me it’s just so unpredictable,” Mitchell said. “Like you don’t know, it can hit and go right, it can hit and go left. At least when they loft it, like for me, I put it up there and it hits the rim and goes up, so now I can put myself in the play. And then just go jump and try and make a play. Tap it out, grab it, and in this case make the layup.”
Mitchell went on to outscore the Bulls in overtime 13-4 by himself. But after a wild play like the free throw rebound to send it overtime, he wasn’t leaving with a loss.
“Once I made that, I sat in the huddle and JB and I started laughing and I was like, ‘Might as well win the game at this point Mitchell said. “Third and fourth quarter for me is what my job is. It’s going out there and finding a way to win. The free throw was kind of like, that’s why I couldn’t stop smiling after that. It was one of those things. I’m glad we fought and got the win.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.
This article originally appeared on the Akron Beacon Journal: Donovan Mitchell’s 71-point game NBA’s most since Kobe Bryant in 2006