Looking back at Donovan Mitchell’s Night for the Ages

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

Donovan Mitchell set the FieldHouse on fire. Not literally, but the fans might as well have been because of how often they screamed and jumped out of their seats, unable to contain admiration for Spida. #45’s historic presentation was as mythical as Jim Morrison’s captivating performance at the Cleveland Public Auditorium on Aug. 2, 1968.

Like the “Erotic Politician,” Spida gave everyone in attendance a memory that should last a lifetime. That night in 1968, police officers on guard stood in horror just as the Chicago Bulls bench did during the second half and overtime of Monday’s game.

Mitchell truly had an out-of-body experience on Monday night to lead the Cavs’ comeback against the Bulls.

Inside the cavernous arena, Mitchell scored 71 points with 11 dimes and eight boards. All that was missing from Don was that he didn’t take a bow at center court with roses piling at his feet.

Before anyone had a clue that something momentous was about to occur, the Cleveland Cavaliers had been down as many as 21 points in the first half. The Bulls were entering the lane at will because the Cavs were giving up the baseline and point of attack.

The gravity of Chicago’s pick-and-roll, quick passing plus dribble penetration exposed Cleveland’s perimeter defense by having the Cavs overhelp. Like when Kevin Love, on the first play of the game, didn’t trust Lamar Stevens challenging Patrick Williams under the basket.

Having just blitzed Zach LaVine on the right wing, Love’s next rotation should have been to DeMar DeRozan in the close corner. Instead, he overhelped under the rim, and a clumsy pass found DeRozan. Love arrived in time for a contest but conceded space off a jab step for Chicago’s first score.

Another example again features Love. He was on the weak side monitoring Williams in the right corner and decided to clog the lane against LaVine’s drive. LaVine recognized this elementary-level mistake and found Williams for a 3-pointer that Caris LeVert, the man defending the key, couldn’t bother in time.

Although, on some closeouts, like Mitchell’s from the post to the right wing to disrupt Williams’ tray, was textbook. The shot went in because of the five-inch size difference that provides a higher release point.

At the intermission, the score read 65-47 in favor of the visitors. Cleveland was down on the glass by seven and had six more turnovers which created five additional field goal attempts in the half for the Bulls. Another discouraging sign was that the Cavs had missed five free throws too.

In the third quarter, Mitchell sizzled, scoring 24 points on six out of nine shots and making all 12 freebies. Without a screen at the top of the key, Spida’s burst left Ayo Dosunmu behind as he knifed through the square. At the rim, he finger rolled past Nikola Vucevic for a soft finish.

In the second half, Spida dug his group out of a ditch by converting 42 points on 65% shooting from the floor. He relentlessly found switches up top, attacking LaVine and Vucevic, or he would get downhill, finishing among Chicago’s backline without help after the catch.

Then came OT. Spida was a spotless four out of four from the field. On the Cavs’ first possession, he isolated DeRozan on the left wing and created space by side-stepping left. The defense managed to get a hand up, but Spida had all the room he needed for three points.

With 2:22 left, Mitchell took off on the fastbreak on a one-on-two against DeRozan and LaVine. He swerved in between both trackers and laid the ball gently off the glass. Cleveland took a seven-point lead, and Chicago called a timeout.

On the Cavs’ next score, Mitchell received a handoff from Love as he curled from the corner to the left wing. His defender, Derrick Jones Jr., even went over the screen but incorrectly thought the attack would be a drive. Spida then stepped back and canned his second triple of OT, putting the Cavs up 10.

In NBA history, a night like Spida’s has happened 12 times at the hands of only six players. Wilt Chamberlain scored at least 70 points six times between Dec. 8, 1961- March. 10, 1963, and his teams won on three of those occasions. The other five who logged as many points are Kobe Bryant (81), David Thompson (73), Elgin Baylor (71), David Robinson (71) and Devin Booker (70). Thompson and Booker’s team also lost when they scored at least 70.

In that exclusive company, Mitchell is the only one to drop at least 70 and have double-digit dimes (11). Booker is next in line for most assists with that many points, and he only had six. Spida also has the highest two-point field goal percentage of that group (78.9).

In fairness to Chamberlain, Baylor and Thompson, when they filled the stat sheet, there wasn’t a 3-point shot. The triple was added during the 1979-80 season. Fast forward to Jan. 22, 2006, the night Bryant had 81. He recorded seven out of 13 deep shots. In the NBA during the 2005-06 season, the league average for made triples for a team was 5.7 a game.

Mitchell scored 21 of his 71 from behind the 3-point line but on 47% efficiency. He also finished the night with nearly 50 minutes of play.

Booker and Mitchell are still active players, but the other four guys on the list aren’t just Hall of Famers; they are NBA royalty. Permanently having one’s name sit next to those belonging to the league’s greatest is a remarkable achievement. For crying out loud, LeBron James played for the Cavs for 11 seasons, and he never did that. That’s no knock on James. It only means Spida turned into an outer-worldly presence, likely a Jedi.

At the postgame press conference, head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said about Mitchell, “He wanted to show how much it mattered…”

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I’m glad he did.