The Chicago Bulls fell apart under the fury of Donovan Mitchell in Monday’s 145-134 overtime loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Mitchell scored 71 points, eclipsing a Cavs scoring record held by LeBron James.
With an 18-point halftime lead, the Bulls seemed set to cement a crucial win in Cleveland after dropping a home game to the Cavaliers two days earlier. But Mitchell ignited in the second half on the way to his career-best scoring total, forcing the Bulls on their heels
Mitchell forced overtime at the free-throw line with 4.4 seconds remaining. With one free throw remaining and a two-point lead, Bulls coach Billy Donovan knew the importance of the rebound and brought in rebounding specialist Andre Drummond.
Yet Mitchell wriggled free, flying off the line after missing his free throw and flipping up a layup as he tumbled to the ground to tie the score at 130 with three seconds remaining.
The teams traded blows in the final minute of regulation. Nikola Vučević nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the arc and Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White each hit a pair of free throws to regain leads for the Bulls. Jarrett Allen responded with a dunk and a hook shot to keep the Cavaliers within a point, allowing Mitchell’s last-gasp effort to send the game into overtime.
The Bulls then caved in the extra session, scoring only four points as the Cavaliers finished off the win.
- The Bulls flipped the script on the Cavaliers in the first half by allowing their defense to drive the offense, scoring 13 points off turnovers. A combination of active hands and intelligent gambits into the passing lane resulted in six first-half steals. DeMar DeRozan tallied a season-high four steals overall to lead the Bulls’ disruptive efforts.
- With the defense creating scoring, the Bulls offense thrived on balance that prioritized playmaking over individual scoring. The Bulls tallied 13 assists on 23 made baskets in the first half, and all 10 players who saw the court scored. Zach LaVine led the team with six assists.
- After building their success in regulation on paint points and ball movement, the Bulls cornered the entirety of their overtime offense on 3-pointers. They opened with five 3-point attempts from Dosunmu, Patrick Williams, LaVine and DeRozan. By the time the Bulls ditched the strategy, the Cavaliers had taken a 10-point lead that could not be overcome.
- Mitchell demolished the Bulls’ 18-point halftime lead almost single-handedly in the third quarter, scoring 24 points to pull the Cavaliers within five. They closed the quarter on a 10-4 run.
- Alex Caruso fouled out with 3:26 remaining in regulation as the Bulls struggled with foul calls throughout the second half. Three Bulls players had four fouls by the end of the third quarter: Caruso, LaVine and Dosunmu. The Bulls finished with 33 fouls as Mitchell scored 20 of his 71 points from the free-throw line.
- Monday’s game marked the 20th clutch finish of the season for the Bulls, whose last four games have had a margin of five or fewer points in the final five minutes. The Bulls’ recent 7-6 run in clutch games is an improvement after an 0-7 start to the season, but their 7-13 record is still a concern as they continue to find themselves in tight games.
Mitchell joined rarified air with his 71-point night, only the 12th 70-point performance in NBA history. He scored 42 in the second half and 13 in overtime. Mitchell finished 22-for-34 from the field and 7-for-15 from the 3-point arc while leading the Cavaliers with 11 assists.
The previous franchise record of 57 points was set by James in 2017. Mitchell’s previous career high was 57 with the Utah Jazz.
Mitchell’s teammates swarmed him in celebration at the final buzzer, posing for a group picture to commemorate the historic moment. After the game, Mitchell joked to reporters that the only time he’d scored 71 points was while playing the “NBA 2K” video game.
Quote of the night
Donovan voiced frustration with a pair of lane violation calls — and what he perceived to be a no-call — that could have decided the game.
Caruso was called for back-to-back lane violations on Mitchell’s 20th free-throw attempt in the third quarter after lunging over the 3-point line before the shot. Donovan acknowledged that Caruso was in the wrong on both violations, but he felt the officiating was uneven when Mitchell similarly stepped over the line to beat a boxout by Williams and collect the rebound for his game-tying shot.
Despite this frustration, Donovan said Williams and the rest of his players need to take responsibility for missing the rebound.
“We’ve got to find a way to come up with the ball in that situation,” Donovan said.
Bulls forward Javonte Green returned to the sideline as he continues to struggle with a bone bruise in his right knee. Green has missed eight games with the injury, returning briefly for a pair of three-game stints before requiring further rest when his pain became unmanageable.
Before the knee injury, Donovan planned to move Green into the starting lineup to replace Williams, but that plan has been put on hold until the injury is fully resolved.
The Cavaliers were missing guard Darius Garland (right thumb) and forward Evan Mobley (right ankle).
Where they stand
The Bulls dropped to 16-21 with the loss, falling back into a tie for 11th in the Eastern Conference.
The Bulls return home to host the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday at the United Center.