Mitchell’s masterpiece: Cavs star scores 71 points in win

CALIFORNIA (AP): A towel strewn over his shoulders, still in his uniform after the game, Donovan Mitchell wearily took a seat and looked at the boxscore that had been placed in front of him.


Someone standing nearby asked if he needed anything, and Mitchell politely declined.


“I’m good,” Mitchell said. “I’m as good as can be.”


As good as he’s ever been in an NBA game, for sure. Better, even. Better than most anyone in any game ever, actually.


In a season where big numbers have become the norm, Mitchell put up the biggest numbers of all Monday night — matching the second highest-scoring game the NBA has seen in nearly 45 years. He finished with 71 points, tying for eighth-most in league history, to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers past the Chicago Bulls 145-134 in overtime.


The only other players to score at least 71 in a game: Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, David Thompson, David Robinson and Elgin Baylor.


“This is nuts, to be honest,” said Mitchell, who had 55 of his points after halftime. “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’ve got to keep working. This is a big milestone, but at the end of the day, those guys have all won at the highest level. That’s my ultimate goal.”


The most recent game of more than 71 points was Bryant’s 81-point masterpiece for the Los Angeles Lakers against Toronto on Jan. 22, 2006. Before that, it was 73 points by David Thompson for Denver against Detroit on April 9, 1978.


“To be there in the record books with them is truly incredible,” Mitchell said.


His was the 12th game of 50 or more points in the NBA so far this season; later Monday, Golden State’s Klay Thompson scored 54 in the Warriors’ double-overtime win over Atlanta — becoming the 13th 50-point game of the season.


Video game numbers are coming nightly now. Before Dec. 23, there had only been four days in NBA history where five players scored at least 40 points on the same day.


Consider: that’s four days in 76 years.


It’s happened three times in less than two weeks since.


On Dec. 23, five players — Dallas’ Luka Doncic, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, New York’s RJ Barrett and Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton — did it. A week later, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James, Chicago’s Zach LaVine, New Orleans’ CJ McCollum and Golden State’s Jordan Poole combined to do it again.


And then Monday, led by Mitchell and Thompson, it happened yet again — with James, Embiid and Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan also scoring at least 40.


“I’ll say again: Humbled to be in that company, humbled to be in this position,” Mitchell said.


There have been 87 games of at least 40 or more points already this season, by a combined 33 players. Doncic has eight such games of 40 or more, Embiid and Antetokounmpo each have seven, Boston’s Jayson Tatum has six. There were 119 games of 40 or more in the entirety of the 2021-22 regular season; this season isn’t even half over yet and players are already closing in on that total.


Doncic’s 60-point game, which he had on Dec. 27, was the NBA’s season high. It didn’t even last a week, not with Mitchell’s gem on Monday.


Mitchell missed his first shot. And his second. And his third. It took him nearly the entire first quarter to get a field goal attempt to finally fall.


“Just keep plugging away,” Mitchell said.


That’s an understatement.


He had five points in the first quarter, 11 more in the second quarter. Cleveland was getting run out of its building, having trailed by as many as 21 and going into halftime down 65-47.


And then, Mitchell was unstoppable — 24 points in the third, 18 more in the fourth, capped by him intentionally missing a free throw with 4.4 seconds left with the Cavs down by two, getting the rebound and scoring to tie the game and force overtime.


Then came the finish with a flourish: He didn’t miss a shot in the extra session, 4 for 4 from the field, 3 for 3 on 3-pointers, 2 for 2 from the foul line. He outscored the Bulls 13-4 by himself.


LeBron James and Kyrie Irving had the Cavaliers’ single-game record of 57 points — which, coincidentally, was Mitchell’s career-high before Monday, done while he played for the Utah Jazz in a playoff game at the NBA restart bubble in Florida in 2020. His regular-season career best, before Monday, was 46.


The Cavs’ record belongs to Mitchell now, and probably will for a long time.


“In my 15 years, that’s the best performance I’ve ever seen, ever been a part of,” Cavaliers forward Kevin Love said. “I’ve seen some special ones.”