NBA reacts to Donovan Mitchell's historic leadership on Cavaliers in Round 1

Donovan Mitchell was electric for Cleveland in their final two games against the Orlando Magic. He led the Cavaliers to a 106-94 victory in Game 7 with 39 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists.
Orlando Magic v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Seven
Orlando Magic v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Seven / Jason Miller/GettyImages

When the Cleveland Cavaliers traded for Donovan Mitchell in the summer of 2022, the vision was clear. They were ecstatic to acquire a proven star who had performed at a high level on the playoff stage. Someone who could help lead a team of young up-and-comers and show them how to win in the postseason. In Game 7 - that vision came to fruition.

After Donovan’s first ten playoff games with the Cavaliers (going back to the 2023 playoffs) it looked as though he might not be the postseason superstar they were hoping to add. Whether it was the coaching, chemistry, or injuries - the Cavaliers were not getting those electric high-scoring performances that Donovan was giving Utah in 2020 and 2021.

Donovan had only reached 30 points twice in the playoffs as a Cavalier before Game 6 against Orlando. Although scoring isn’t everything, it is what Donovan Mitchell does best to help lead his team to victory. Then in Game 6 and Game 7, Spida was ready for the moment and rose to the occasion, showing Cleveland he can be that superstar to lead them in the playoffs.

In Game 6, Donovan scored 50 points on an efficient 22-of-36 from the field. It was a gutsy performance as Mitchell was clearly hobbled and limping due to his prior knee injury being reaggravated. Still, he found ways to beat his defender to get near the rim and finish his drives. It also had significant historical context, as it was the second-highest scoring performance ever by a Cavalier in the playoffs, behind only Lebron James’ 51-point performance in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals.

However, Cavaliers fans all feared that his historical performance would be for nothing - as the Cavaliers ultimately fell short that night 103-96. Darius Garland and Max Strus were the only other two Cavaliers to score in double digits as the Cavs supporting cast ultimately did not give Mitchell enough offensive help to win. 

Despite Mitchell’s amazing performance there was an uneasy feeling going into Game 7. Mitchell looked hampered, and many feared he would not physically be able to repeat another strong offensive performance. Also, the supporting cast looked lost and was incredibly ineffective in Game 6. The Cavaliers were shooting terribly from deep all series, and nobody other than Mitchell was able to create consistent offense. Not only was their fear that the Cavaliers would lose Game 7 and blow a 3-2 lead, but there was a growing concern that Mitchell would feel he didn’t have enough help in Cleveland and would look for a change of scenery.

How the Cavaliers saved their season in Game 7

However, the Cleveland Cavaliers came together for a historic Game 7 victory. They struggled early to create good looks on offense and ultimately fell down by 18 points midway through the second quarter.

With the season on the line, the Cavaliers and Mitchell were not finished fighting on their homecourt. The Cavs not only responded in the second half with the largest Game 7 comeback in NBA history, but they finished the night with a 30-point switch with a 106-94 win. Caris LeVert stepped up as a secondary playmaker for 15 points, Max Strus hit three huge threes in the second half and finished with 13 points. Though he rarely saw the court earlier in the series, Sam Merrill provided an important eight points in the second quarter that helped spur the comeback.

Isaac Okoro entered the starting lineup at power forward in wake of Allen's third missed game and scored eight points. He also played tough defense for 33 minutes, guarding Paolo Banchero for most of those minutes and finishing with a team high +24 in the plus/minus. Evan Mobley anchored the defense with 11 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks. After struggling for most of the game, Garland made some big shots down the stretch for 12 points and had three key steals.

Everyone was stepping up, but it was Mitchell who was leading the show and finished with an incredible 39 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists. Despite the Orlando Magic’s tough and physical defense, Mitchell was relentless and continued to attack the basket and was rewarded with 17 free throws, in which he made 15. Mitchell struggled to shoot from outside, but he was able to hit two huge three pointers in the second half as the Cavs were extending their lead on the Magic. Donovan’s total combined 89 points in Game 6 and Game 7 is the second highest total ever in NBA Game 6 and Game 7 history, behind only Allen Iverson in 2001.

NBA Twitter Reacts to Cleveland's Game 7 finish

Donovan Mitchell put the Cavaliers on his back and had a couple of heroic performances to help Cleveland advance to the second round where they will face the top-seeded Boston Celtics. The Cleveland Cavaliers won a playoff round without LeBron James for the first time since 1993. As the fans at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse watched Donovan Mitchell and the Cavaliers celebrate, the significance of the franchise finding a superstar to usher in the post-LeBron era was palpable in throughout the arena. These players are here to carve a new chapter and create their own legacies. As Mitchell noted in his postgame interview, this is only the start. He did not come to Cleveland to win one series.

Next. Game 7 takeaways from Cavaliers redemption against Magic. Game 7 takeaways from Cavaliers redemption against Magic. dark