Donovan Mitchell’s 71-point game is even more impressive if you know hoops history – Terry Pluto

CLEVELAND, Ohio – I once interviewed Wilt Chamberlain. During the two hours we talked for my book “Tall Tales” (a history of the NBA of the 1950s and 1960s), his 100-point game came up.

“I wish I never did it,” he said.

“Scored 100 points?” I asked.

“It’s got to be a joke,” he said. “It’s not even close to my best game. My teammates wanted me to do it.”

The game was played on March 2, 1962. Chamberlain was with the Philadelphia Warriors. The opponent was the sad sack New York Knicks. And get this – the game was in Hershey, Pa.

Recommended Cavs stories

Why play in Hershey? This was the infancy of the NBA when teams sometimes brought in the Globetrotters to create a basketball doubleheader and attract more fans. In the late 1960s, the Cincinnati Royals played some “home” games in Cleveland.

Anyway, it wasn’t much of a game. The issue was decided by halftime. Not only did Chamberlain’s teammates want him to score 100 points, so did the NBA. The league was desperate for publicity.

Chamberlain played all 48 minutes. He shot 36 of 63 from the field. That’s right, he took SIXTY-THREE shots!!! An awful free throw shooter (51% career), Chamberlain told me that his greatest achievement that night was going 28 of 32 from the foul line.

The final score was Philadelphia 169, New York 147. No 3-point shots back then. Nor did anyone play much defense in that game.

Six times, Chamberlain scored over 70 points in a game. No one else in NBA history has done it more than once.

The second-highest game ever was Kobe Bryant’s 81-point performance on Jan. 22, 2006. His Lakers trailed Toronto by 18 points early in the second half and came back to win, 122-104. Bryant shot 28 of 46 from the field and scored 55 points in the second half.

In this March 2, 1962, file photo, Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors holds a sign reading “100” in the dressing room in Hershey, after he scored 100 points, as the Warriors defeated the New York Knickerbockers 169-147. AP

A STRESSFUL 71 POINTS

Donovan Mitchell’s 71 points Monday night was a different story.

The man earned about every point. This was a game that went into overtime before the Cavs prevailed 145-134. Mitchell had 58 points at the end of the regulation period. Then added 13 more in overtime.

As I watched his game for a second time Tuesday morning, I was exhausted just seeing all the work he needed to do to score.

He continuously drove to the rim. He was 20 of 25 from the foul line. He should have taken at least 10 more free throws, given all the contact he took on those moves to the basket when the whistles didn’t blow.

Unlike the 7-foot Chamberlain (a giant in his day) or even the 6-foot-6 Bryant, Mitchell is small by NBA standards. He is listed at 6-foot-1. He plays much bigger than that. He is one of the strongest players in the NBA when it comes to going to the rim and getting off good shots.

He can make 3-point shots. He can dunk. And he has about every shot in between.

Mitchell is fundamentally sound, making layups with both hands and rarely taking an outrageous shot. I love his game.

EYES CLOSED, TAKE A DEEP BREATH

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell pauses before shooting a free throw. Joshua Gunter, cleveland.com

WATCH HIM SHOOT FREE THROWS

Next time you see Mitchell go to the foul line, watch closely.

He holds the ball in his left hand against his left hip. He closes his eyes. He takes a deep breath. You can see him clearing his mind, slowing things down.

Then he takes three quick dribbles with his left hand, spins the ball once – and shoots.

He does the same thing every time. Pure muscle memory combined with a brief bit of basketball meditation. It’s why he’s shooting 87% from the foul line this season, 84% for his career.

MITCHELL'S BIG SHOT

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell makes an off balance shot after missing a free throw on purpose to tie the game in regulation play, January 2, 2023, at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.John Kuntz, cleveland.com

AN ALL-AROUND PLAYER

It’s surprising that the name of LeBron James is not on the list of 70-point scorers. In his prime, James could have scored 70 or more. He was never that interested in piling up those kind of stats. It comes from the same mindset that led to him refusing to take part in the slam dunk contest.

He wanted to be known as an all-around player. His career highs are 57 points with the Cavs, and 61 with Miami.

Lost in the hype of Mitchell’s 71-point night is that he played an all-around game. Point guard Darius Garland (thumb injury) was out. So was 7-foot starting forward Evan Mobley.

Mitchell served as the point guard. He passed for 11 assists. He had eight rebounds. He brought the Cavs back from a 21-point deficit and played 50 of 53 minutes.

He also intentionally missed a free throw, grabbed his own rebound and muscled up a layup in traffic at the buzzer to force overtime.

On the planned missed foul shot, the shooter often has the best chance at the rebound because he knows where the ball is likely to bounce off the rim. Then add in Mitchell’s leaping ability, grit and power – it led to that remarkable play.

BATTLING MICHAEL JORDAN

Craig Ehlo (3) was often matched up against Michael Jordan, including when Jordan scored a career-high 69 points vs. the Cavs in 1990.

AP

A JORDAN MEMORY

Watching Mitchell reminds me of a Michael Jordan game at the old Richfield Coliseum.

No, not The Shot Game.

This was a game on March 28, 1990. Like Mitchell’s game, this was the Cavs vs. the Bulls. It was close, went into overtime.

Jordan led the Bulls to a 117-113 victory by scoring 69 points, his career high. He was 23 of 37 from the field and 21 of 23 at the foul line. He also had 18 rebounds and six assists.

For the Cavs, Mark Price scored 31 points.

Covering Jordan all night, Craig Ehlo scored 26 and John “Hot Rod” Williams added 23. I covered that game for the Akron Beacon Journal and I kept thinking, “Too much Jordan.” It was like that so often for the Cavs and their fans when facing the Bulls in that era.

Monday night, the Bulls had DeMar DeRozan, one of the NBA’s most underrated players, scoring 44 points. But it wasn’t enough for Chicago – just like the Cavs of Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance Sr., Price, Ehlo, Williams and coach Lenny Wilkens didn’t have enough to beat Jordan in big games.

This time, the Cavs had Donovan Mitchell playing the role of Jordan in a history-making performance for the home fans against the Bulls.

RECENT TERRY PLUTO COLUMNS

What to say about the Browns strange season? – Terry Pluto’s Postgame Scribbles

Thanks to a strong second half by Watson, Browns can breathe

The inside story of how Kent State hired new football coach Kenny Burns.

What to make of Cavs recent struggles? – Terry Pluto’s Scribbles

Good weather coming, time for Deshaun Watson to shape up – Terry Pluto’s Pregame Scribbles

Looking deep into the $2.7 million contract signed by the new Kent State football coach Kenny Burns

I don’t want to talk about the Browns? Baker Mayfield?

Painful truths about the Browns were spoken after their loss to New Orleans – Terry Pluto’s scribbles

An embarrassing loss for Browns players and coaches

Playing too slow? What’s the real truth about pace of play? – Terry’s Talkin’ Cavs

Themes for Saints game, what about Stefanski & Watson? – Terry’s Talkin’ Browns

Cade York off to a rocky start: A history of Cleveland kickers

Looking at the trade, Donovan Mitchell comes to Cleveland at the right time in his career

More late-season tests coming for Kevin Stefanski – Terry Pluto’s post-game scribbles

How about that? Browns beat Baltimore with toughness!

Browns Pregame Scribbles: A new idea for Deshaun Watson? What’s up with the secondary

The Son-In-Law also rises as Mount Union is back in the Stagg Bowl

New Kent football coach Kenny Burns wants to at Kent Grit to FlashFAST

How about some relief from the Browns? Let’s talk Josh Bell and Guardians

With yet another loss, even a bigger challenge for Kevin Stefanski – Terry Pluto’s Browns Scribbles

Browns undisciplined, frustrating and can’t find the end zone

What happened to Watson during his time with the Texans shows how high the stakes are for the Browns

About Josh Bell’s character, Bo Naylor as a catcher – Terry Pluto’s Guardian scribbles

Can the Browns find a way to get Watson in shape and beat the Bengals? – Terry Pluto’s pregame scribbles

Kent State needs a new football coach: How about Vince Kehres?

If you or a loved one has questions and needs to talk to a professional about gambling, call the Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-589-9966 or the National Council on Gambling Program Helpline (NCPG) at 1-800-522- 4700 or visit 1800gambler.net for more information. 21+ and present in Ohio. Gambling problem? Call 1-800-Gambler.

Leave a Comment