Also, scoring. Also, scoring.
Another three-pointer, then another, and another. It was the swish of the net, followed by the roar of the crowd, and it was a tune that played almost the entire night on repeat.
During his 15-year NBA career, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love has had some incredible individual performances. He’s seen Kyrie Irving put up 50 points a couple of times. He’s seen many of LeBron James’ best performances in his career.
But he’s never seen anything like Mitchell’s performance at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Monday night. In fact, very few people in NBA history have ever done so.
71 points total. After halftime, the score was 55-35. A crazy play sends the game into overtime. And a final five minutes in which Mitchell outscored the Chicago Bulls by himself, leading the Cavs to a 145-134 comeback victory.
Mitchell became the seventh player in NBA history to reach the 70-point mark in a single game. No Cavs player had ever reached the age of 60. Furthermore, no other active player has a higher single-game point total.
“That was the best performance I’ve ever seen in my 15 years,” Love said after the game. “And I’ve been a part of — and seen some extraordinary ones. When Kyrie had 55 points against Portland, I was talking about him. LeBron James in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals. Kyrie has 57 points in San Antonio. However, this one takes the cake. I was saying, ‘What was Donovan’s asking price?’ in our 2016 group text. Tonight was something special. He’s one of, what, seven players with more than 70 points? I can only imagine the names in that company.”
Into the history books
Wilt Chamberlain (six times, including a 100-point game in 1962), Kobe Bryant (81 in 2006), David Thompson (73 in 1978), Elgin Baylor (71 in 1960), David Robinson (71 in 1994), and Devin Booker are among those who have done so (70, 2017). A 70-point game had occurred only three times in the previous 45 years. Only Bryant’s legendary 81-point performance in that era surpassed Mitchell’s.
“It’s quite humbling. To be honest, I’m at a loss for words “Mitchell explained. “Not only did I do that, but I did it as part of a team effort that led to our victory. This is insane. I consider myself extremely fortunate and humbled to be a member of that organisation. I’ve always thought I could be one of the best players in this league, but I need to keep working hard.
“This is a significant accomplishment, but we must continue. Those other guys (in the 70-point club) have all won big, and that’s my ultimate goal. But to be in the record books alongside them is truly incredible.”
Mitchell had only done it as a virtual version of himself in video games.
“Definitely 2K,” Mitchell said, referring to the popular video game franchise. “Definitely, when I first started in the league, I played (2K) as the Jazz and I was just shooting it all the time. I don’t think I did it as well in 2K. But I’ve never done it. I think the closest I got was the bubble, when I had 57. But that was a failure. So far, this one feels much better.”
LeBron James’ compliments
Mitchell also had 11 assists and eight rebounds, as Love mentioned following the game (in addition to jokingly noting that Mitchell did turn it over four times). Mitchell’s night was even more remarkable because he scored or assisted on 99 of the Cavs’ 145 points. Only Chamberlain has scored more points in a single game in NBA history, with 104 in a 100-point game.
“Get out of the way,” Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff responded when asked how he coaches a 71-point game. “Again, you try to figure out what they’re doing and how you can continue to create opportunities for the hot hand. He didn’t require much assistance from me tonight.”
Mitchell actually began the game cold. For the majority of the night, the Cavs trailed by double digits, and at one point trailed by 21 points. The Cavs gradually chipped away at the Bulls’ lead as Mitchell began to heat up and pour in points. Mitchell became so hot that the Cavs began to play a game within a game: keep Mitchell on the floor but find ways to give him as many breathers as possible. Mitchell played the entire second half and overtime.
“He said he was good,” Bickerstaff explained. “Again, we built a trusting relationship, and I told him, ‘Just keep talking to me.’ We tried to use our timeouts as efficiently as possible in order to land as many blows on him as possible.'”
Mitchell was repeatedly greeted by deafening M-V-P chants from the home crowd. Mitchell was interviewed over the PA system after the game. Cedi Osman took the mic and began his own M-V-P chant, energising the audience once more.
“There aren’t enough words to describe it; I’ve never seen a live performance like that,” Bickerstaff said. “I believe we’ve seen some of them on TV before, but we were treated tonight to one of the greatest performances in NBA history. There have obviously been some great players in this league, but I don’t know how many guys are capable of doing what he did tonight.”
A Luka Doncic-like performance sends the game to overtime.
Despite Mitchell’s near-constant scoring, the Cavs trailed in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. Mitchell was sent to the free throw line with 4.7 seconds remaining, with the Cavs trailing 130-127. He hit the first free throw but needed to miss the second in order for the Cavs to get a rebound. It was something they had previously practised. Mitchell inserted Robin Lopez into the game so that he and Jarrett Allen could be in the paint and potentially tip the ball back.
Mitchell attempted a high arch that bounced off the rim and to the right side. Instead of the several seven-footers in the lane, Mitchell fought his way to the ball and got the put-back layup as he fell to the floor, tying the game at 130-130. Mitchell stated that it had previously worked for him with previous teams in his career, but never when he was the one who got the rebound.
It was a similar play to one made recently by Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic, which also resulted in overtime. Mitchell preferred the higher arching option, while Doncic threw more line drives. It worked flawlessly for the Cavs.
“Yeah, because it’s just so unpredictable for me,” Mitchell explained. “As if you didn’t know, it can hit and go right or hit and go left. At the very least, when they loft it, I put it up there and it hits the rim and goes up, so I can now put myself in the play. Then just jump and try to make a play. Tap it out, grab it, and make the layup in this case.”
Mitchell went on to outscore the Bulls 13-4 in overtime. But, after a wild play like the free throw rebound that sent the game into overtime, he wasn’t going down without a fight.
“I sat in the huddle after that and J.B. and I started laughing, and I thought, ‘Might as well win the game at this point,’ Mitchell said. “My job is in the third and fourth quarters. It’s about going out there and winning. That was the reason I couldn’t stop smiling after the free throw. It was one of those instances. “I’m glad we fought and won.”