When the Cleveland Cavaliers acquired Donovan Mitchell before the start of the season, the expectations for the 2022-23 campaign got significantly higher.
Through 80 games, Mitchell has seemingly surpassed all expectations, as he has helped lead the Cavaliers back to the playoffs. That feat hadn’t been accomplished without the likes of LeBron James on the Cavaliers since the 1997-98 season.
The Cavaliers also hit 50 wins for the first time since the 2017-18 season.
Mitchell is averaging a career-best 28 points per game on 48 percent from the floor, which is also a career-high. The sixth-year guard has recorded 32 games of 30+ points and set a Cleveland franchise record with 13 games of 40 or more points in a single season.
Cleveland made quite the leap last season, but they were clearly missing that player who could take over a game. Mitchell’s addition and spectacular scoring ability elevated the Cavaliers into a contending team in the East.
With a plethora of Mitchell performances to choose from, I will not necessarily select three of his best individual games and three of Donovan’s best stretches of the season. Instead, we’ll take a look at some of Mitchell’s best moments.
Mitchell’s best moment this season: Jan. 2 vs. the Chicago Bulls
Mitchell’s first half wasn’t anything special, as he scored 16 points and 50 percent shooting, but the Cavaliers trailed the Bulls by 18 points at the half.
However, Mitchell began to pour in the points in the third quarter, scoring 24 of them, including a perfect 12-of-12 from the free throw line.
In the fourth quarter, Mitchell added 18 more points, and none more spectacular than when he intentionally missed a free throw and was somehow able to put back his miss to tie the game. Granted, the league would state after the fact that Mitchell’s play there should’ve resulted in a lane violation, but refs are inherently going to miss some calls, and it didn’t diminish Mitchell’s efforts.
In the overtime period after that sequence, Mitchell seized the moment and put on a display for the raucous home crowd. In the five-minute overtime period, Mitchell outscored the Bulls by himself 13-4.
With his point total set on 69, Mitchell iced the game with his final two points coming at the foul line and the crowd serenading him with “MVP” chants.
Not only did Donovan score 71 points, but he also dished out 11 assists and grabbed eight rebounds while connecting on 7-of-15 three-pointers.
Mitchell has treated Cleveland fans to many elite performances this season, but this January night at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse takes the cake.
Mitchell’s second-best moment this season: Late-season surge
With the Cavs striving to clinch home-court advantage in the first round, Mitchell made sure that would happen with his performances down the season’s stretch run.
Over Cleveland’s last four games, Mitchell reached the 40-point mark in all four games. Not only was this the first time an NBA player topped 40 points in four straight games all season but also the first time this feat has been accomplished since 2018-19.
During this stretch of games, Mitchell is shooting 57.7 percent from the floor, including 48.7 percent from beyond the arc. He is also averaging five rebounds and nearly four assists per game.
While it is great to see Mitchell scoring at such a high volume, he is doing it within the flow of the offense a good amount, and he’s been efficient from the floor.
With the playoffs right around the corner, it is great to see Cleveland’s best player playing arguably his best basketball of the season down the final stretch of games.
Mitchell’s third-best moment this season: Boston Celtics performances and the Los Angeles Lakers home game
After winning the Eastern Conference a season ago, the Boston Celtics were again going to be among the top teams in the conference and a team Cleveland would likely encounter if they plan on making a deep playoff run.
In those four meetings, Mitchell averaged 37.5 points per game on 48 percent from the floor and 39 percent from three-point range. Mitchell also shot 95 percent from the free throw line and averaged 5.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists.
These performances by Donovan were encouraging, as you want to see the top players have their best games against the top teams. When Mitchell saw the Celtics on the other side of the floor, he took that personally and went at Boston with no hesitation.
Another marquee moment for Mitchell was when the Cavaliers welcomed LeBron and the Los Angeles Lakers to town.
With a national audience watching, Mitchell showed them, especially LeBron, that he was the new star in Cleveland. He scored 40 points on 63 percent shooting (50%) from beyond the arc, grabbed six rebounds, and recorded four steals.
While those memories of LeBron leading the Cavaliers to their lone championship will not ever be forgotten, they’ve been trying to establish an identity beyond LeBron, and Mitchell gives them a bonafide star-caliber player.
There are many more moments that I could touch on here, as Mitchell’s season has been full of stellar performances. But he has shown that he is not shy of the big moment and will do whatever it takes to help Cleveland win.
Mitchell is not only a star player, but he is also fully bought into what the Cavs are building and is proving game-by-game that the decision to make the trade for him is one the Cavaliers front office will be thankful they pulled off for quite some time.