Mitchell’s 71-Point Explosion Reinforces Cavs’ Successful Acquisition


When Cleveland traded for Utah All-Star Donovan Mitchell over the offseason, the franchise expected to bump up from play-in bound to a clear playoff-caliber team.

But even the Cavs didn’t expect the type of performance it would get from Mitchell like it did last week:

The NBA sits in the midst of a high-scoring environment where big-time point performances are common. For reference, the league’s teams are averaging record-high points per game (113.8) for the 21st century. The NBA’s average offensive rating (113.6) is 1.3 points higher than the second-best rating recorded in league history (112.3 in 2022). After all, there’s already been fourteen 50-point-or-higher individual games this season, which is a record-setting pace.

And yet, Mitchell’s 71-point performance remains a shocking one, even with all that background information.

While it may not seem like it, ramifications exist for his game both in the present day and in the context of league history.

Mitchell compared to NBA history

For context, just six players eclipsed the 70-point or more in a game marker in league history. The list includes some notable NBA legends (and one clear outlier from the Southwest Division).

70-point games in league history

There’s a pretty profound case Mitchell’s game ranks third behind Wilt’s 100-point and Kobe’s 81-point performances.

For starters, something that stood out during Donovan Mitchell’s scoring explosion is how much he flowed within the offense. Until the end of the game, few shots felt forced. In fact, a majority of Mitchell’s production took place from his teammate’s playmaking. Mitchell didn’t hog the ball, as evidenced by his 11 assists against the Chicago Bulls.

And unlike a Booker-type 70-point performance, Mitchell did it in a competitive game where a) the Cavs trailed for most of the night and b) in an overtime contest that featured a wild finish.

Furthermore, Mitchell’s performance stands out in the context of the Cavs’ offense. Mitchell scored or assisted on 99 of the team’s 145 points (68.3%!). For context, that’s the second-most (!!!) in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain (104 in 1962).

In other words, the context of Mitchell’s 71-point game tells a lot about how valuable his performance was to begin the new year.

Mitchell pushes his way into the MVP conversation

Expanding the scope to Donovan Mitchell as a player, his 71-point game embodies his offensive upside outside of the Jazz offensive system.

This season, Mitchell is averaging career highs in points per game (29.3), field-goal percentage (49%), three-point percentage (40%), and free-throw attempts (6.1) and percentage (88%). Comparing this season to his last three All-Star years in Utah, the statistical leap is substantially improved.

Donovan Mitchell by the numbers:

  • 2020-2022 (Three-time All-Star seasons with Utah): 25.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists per game, 45% on 20.2 field-goal attempts, 37% on 8.4 three-point attempts, and 85% on 5.0 free-throw attempts per game 
  • 2022-2023 (First season with Cleveland): 29.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.9 assists per game, 49% on 20.5 field goal attempts, 40% on 9.6 three-point attempts, and 88% on 6.1 free-throw attempts per game 

The biggest surprise for Mitchell is the increase in both volume and efficiency. Even with greater responsibilities on offense, he’s thrived with the Cavs this season. Cleveland ranks 11th in offensive rating (113.9) in the NBA after finishing 20th in last season’s 44-win campaign.

Individually, Mitchell propelled himself into the MVP conversation before his 71-point game. As of now, he sits with the eighth-best odds to win the award.

Talk about picture-perfect timing for a performance like this one.

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Cleveland’s hopeful return to the promised land

At its core, Mitchell’s 71-point game highlights why the Cavs wanted to acquire the former Jazz star this past offseason.

The Cavs shocked the NBA community in 2021-2022, winning 44 games despite being projected to win only 26-27 games using preseason odds. But, Cleveland cooled off towards the end of the season, relying heavily on All-Star guard Darius Garland to carry the offense.

This season, the Garland-Mitchell combo looks great. Cleveland is always able to have one All-Star scoring hub at all times. Together, they’ve upgraded the Cavs’ offensive ceiling from average to one of the most efficient in the league.

The best part: Cleveland didn’t sacrifice its defensive identity either in the process. The Cavs rank first in defensive rating (106.8) after finishing fifth last season.

Cleveland boasts major potential heading into the postseason. Five teams have clearly emerged as undeniable playoff teams: Boston, Milwaukee, Brooklyn (pending Kevin Durant‘s injury), Philadelphia and Cleveland. From there, it’s anybody’s NBA Finals berth to clinch.

And to be honest, all the Cavs mainly wanted was a chance to sniff the Finals. Now with Mitchell at the helm, Cleveland’s retooling over the offseason propelled the Cavs to its best chance to be a playoff competitor post-LeBron James.

If the high-scoring outbreaks continue, Mitchell and company will be a dark horse to watch for as we approach the second half of this NBA season.

About Dominic Chiappone

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