Mitchell sets tone with patented 30-point Game 1

NBA

CLEVELAND — Cavaliers star guard Donovan Mitchell got just two or three hours of sleep the night before Saturday’s 97-83 Game 1 win over the Orlando Magic. He knew he needed his rest — especially with a 1 p.m. ET tipoff — but he couldn’t calm his excitement.

So he took a late-night drive. During his outing, he came across two kids. They started yelling words of encouragement.

That level of excitement is why Mitchell loves the very first game of the playoffs more than anything. And that excitement translates to his play as he put up yet another 30-point performance in a Game 1.

“It’s all about setting a tone,” said Mitchell, who had 30 points on 11-of-21 shooting. “This is exciting and I love it and it’s great but in the same token, this game is only one game. This is trying to set that tone but now we have to do it again and again.”

It’s the fifth straight Game 1 that Mitchell has scored at least 30 points, tying Alex English for the sixth-longest streak in NBA history and the longest amongst active players. Only Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Wilt Chamberlain have had longer streaks.

“He’s ready for the moment,” Cavaliers coach JB Bickerstaff said. “And it’s the Game 1s. It’s the bigger games during the regular season. Like, he has the ability and the understanding of how important the start is. … Some people may have that idea or thought and understanding of it. But he’s got the ability to time and time [again] go to that space.”

That space also exists outside of the first game of a series.

Through his first 45 career playoff games, Mitchell has had 21 30-point games. Over the past 40 years, only two other players have more such games: Jordan and Allen Iverson.

However, that hasn’t always led to postseason success. Mitchell’s Cavaliers lost in the first round of last season’s playoffs in five games to the New York Knicks. Mitchell also has never made it past the second round.

In his second year in Cleveland, Mitchell dealt with multiple injuries and played in just 55 games. His latest setback — a knee injury — kept him out almost all of March.

Although he struggled initially upon his return, he’s “one percent better every day,” according to Mitchell.

He keeps reiterating how, as much as setting a tone early is needed, the ability to follow it up continuously is even more important.

“This is who I am. That’s been my message all year. That’s why I’m here,” Mitchell said. “But it’s one game … This is who I am — so now just doing it consistently.”

He continued: “It’s great to get this win how we got it, the way we won, but this is who we are and who we expect to be.”

In addition to Mitchell’s scoring, the Cavs got a postseason career-high 16 points and 11 rebounds from Evan Mobley and 16 points and 18 rebounds from Jarrett Allen — the first 15-point, 15-rebound playoff game from a Cavalier since LeBron James in Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference finals.

It helped overcome lackluster shooting from Max Strus as well as the team’s 3-point drought of 18 consecutive misses and 17 turnovers.

“As long as we stay here, stay here mentally, all of [our ups and downs] was for this,” Mitchell said. “We did it tonight, but we’ve got to have that attitude until we get four wins. Then another four. Then another four. It’s great to feel good, but it’s only one. We’ve got three more times to do this. Then the same thing. Then we’ve got to do it again.”

ESPN Stats & Information research contributed to this story.

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