Players are more often than not judged on a per-season basis, with a more comprehensive body of work determining whether they and their teams are a match made in heaven. At times, though, all you need is a game.
Donovan Mitchell has played nearly half an NBA season with the Cleveland Cavaliers and while the early returns are promising, facing adversity is another matter altogether. No Darius Garland and Evan Mobley meant that Mitchell and the Cavaliers were playing from behind the 8-ball. For much of the first four quarters it seemed so, as the Cavs were playing from behind, at times staring at a large deficit.
Even then, Cleveland couldn’t be counted out thanks to Mitchell.
The three-time NBA All-Star continued to drive, shoot, and troop to the foul line, seemingly putting the Cavaliers on his shoulders. Mitchell pulled out every trick in the book to rally his team and send the game into overtime.
In the extra period, Mitchell handed the Cavs their first lead of the game, sparking a 10-0 run that generated a lead they never gave up. When the dust settled, Cleveland had the game won and Mitchell finished with a new career-high of 71 points.
Along with the eight rebounds and 11 assists, Mitchell’s performance is one for the books, as he is the first NBA player to have a 70-point, 10-assist game and now owns the Cavaliers’ single-game franchise record for points.
When accounting for assists, Mitchell was responsible for 99 points, the most since Wilt Chamberlain’s 104 (100 points and two assists) back in March 2, 1962.
Mitchell’s 71 points are the most scored in a game since the 81 points the late great Kobe Bryant scored and it was reminiscent of arguably the Laker legend’s greatest single-game performance. Both came with their teams playing from behind and both Bryant and Mitchell were pretty much unstoppable on those nights.
It’s not often we come across a 70-point game, let alone one that came on a double-double. Then again, it’s not often one comes across Donovan Mitchell.
To bring Mitchell to the Cavs, Cleveland had to give up three players and surrender three (or even five when counting pick swaps) future draft picks, a hefty price for one player. Yet that is pretty much the going price for stars these days in the NBA. The Cavaliers already have a young solid core in Garland, Mobley, Jarrett Allen, and prior to the trade, Lauri Markkanen and Collin Sexton. That group was a win away from making the postseason, but the allure of Mitchell was enough for them to blow things up.
Such is the risk that comes with winning in the NBA, something Mitchell is quite familiar with. Winning games and securing top seeds were things the 26-year old was familiar with during his time with the Utah Jazz, but for whatever rhyme or reason, they couldn’t get over the hump.
Now, both Mitchell and the Cavs are looking to soar to greater heights together. Mitchell gives Cleveland their go-to shotmaker who can go supernova, while the Cavaliers give Mitchell a team that can be quite the terror on both ends of the floor. Together, they are hanging tough with the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, and the Milwaukee Bucks, who all are more or less a couple of games ahead of them. It’s not yet even the halfway mark of the season, and as such, the city of Cleveland certainly hopes they won’t let up now that they’re pretty much in the driver’s seat.
On a night filled with huge scoring performances, it’s Donovan Mitchell’s 71-point effort that took the welcoming of the New Year with a bang to another level. While it may be too much to expect offensive outbursts like this on a nightly basis, it does put Mitchell in the middle of the conversation of the best guard in the league. The debates may rage on for weeks, months, and even seasons after, but as it stands, Mitchell is already in esteemed company.