CLEVELAND, Ohio — Not LeBron James. Not Kyrie Irving.
With a virtuoso performance against the Chicago Bulls on Monday night, Mitchell set the Cavaliers’ single-game scoring record — and led them to a remarkable 145-134 overtime win at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
“In my 15 years, that’s the best performance I’ve ever seen,” Kevin Love said following the victory.
Mitchell’s record-setter was the most incredible, the most important and the most improbable.
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With the Bulls clinging to a three-point lead in the closing seconds after a pair of free throws made by reserve guard Coby White, the Cavs inbounded the ball to Mitchell. As he dribbled up the floor, Chicago fouled Mitchell on purpose, wanting to keep him from any chance at a game-tying 3-pointer.
It was a good idea. In theory. But Mitchell had his own thoughts.
The MVP candidate buried the first free throw and missed the second on purpose. As the high-arching ball was caroming off the rim, Mitchell shimmied around 6-foot-7 forward Patrick Williams, darted toward the lane, caught the rebound in midair and spun in the game-tying layup.
Mitchell had his 58th point — a franchise record and career-high.
But in order to punctuate this night, the Cavs needed a defensive stop at the end of regulation. With 3 seconds left, the Bulls called timeout to draw up a play. Center Jarrett Allen forced DeMar DeRozan into a miss at the buzzer, and despite the Cavs never leading in regulation, it was on to overtime.
“We’ve come this far, so might as well finish,” Mitchell said of the conversation before OT.
Mitchell poured in 13 more points in the extra session. He finished with an NBA season-high 71 points on 22 of 34 from the field, 7 of 15 from 3-point range and 20 of 25 from the foul line in 50 awe-inspiring minutes.
LeBron who? Kyrie who?
“I don’t know how many guys in our league can do what he did tonight,” Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff said. “I’ve never witnessed a performance like that live. We were treated tonight to one of the greatest performances in the history of the NBA.”
Mitchell is just the sixth player in NBA history to score more than 70 in a game — and the first since Phoenix Suns swingman Devin Booker notched 70 on March 24, 2017. Mitchell’s 71 points are tied with David Robinson and Elgin Baylor for eighth. -highest score in a single game in regular season history. Wilt Chamberlain scored at least 70 five different times. Kobe Bryant and David Thompson are the others to reach that rarefied air.
The highest tally for both Irving and James was 57 — the Cavs’ previous franchise record.
Astonishingly, Mitchell’s night did not start well. He missed five of his first seven shot attempts. But Mitchell started heating up at the end of the first half, tallying eight straight going into the locker room and giving him a mundane 16 first-half points. That late-quarter turnaround carried over into an explosive third quarter.
Mitchell went nuclear.
He cut Chicago’s 21-point lead to single digits for the first time in the second half at the 3:25 mark of the third — a driving and-1 that had him celebrating and calling for the crowd to rise.
They did. And then showered him with MVP chants.
Mitchell scored 24 of the team’s 44 third-quarter points, going 6 of 9 from the field and 12 of 12 from the free-throw line. It’s the second-highest scoring quarter of his career.
By the end of that burst, Cleveland trailed by just five points heading into the fourth.
Even though Mitchell typically sits to start the final quarter, Mitchell and Bickerstaff had a brief conversation about staying in the game. Mitchell wanted to keep going. And Bickerstaff agreed that his star deserved a chance to finish what he started.
That he did. Fittingly, it was Mitchell who finally gave Cleveland its first lead of the night in OT — a cold-blooded step-back triple. The Cavs never looked back, outscoring the Bulls 15-4 in OT. To make his night even more special, Mitchell added 11 assists and eight rebounds. In all, he accounted for 99 of the team’s 145 points. He is the first player ever to score at least 70 points and dish out 10 or more assists in the same game.
“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 that’s how we won. This is nuts. 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.”
After a water-bottle celebration on the court, teammate Cedi Osman, who finished with 19 points off the bench, grabbed the microphone and started the booming chant one more time.
Following Saturday’s one-point win in Chicago, Mitchell was highly critical of his recent play, looking nothing like the franchise player who had Cleveland dreaming of another Finals run. That changed Monday. Emphatically. Historically.
New year. New Mitchell. Time to dream again.
Darius Garland missed his second consecutive game because of a sprained right thumb. Evan Mobley was held out another night because of soreness in his right ankle.
With his post-up basket at the 7:43 mark of the first quarter, Love moved into 10th place on the all-time made field goals list, passing franchise legend Campy Russell. Love’s shot was his first of the night and the 2,481st field goal of his Cavaliers career.
The Cavs will host the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night. Tipoff is set for 7 pm
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