Bulls succumb to Cavaliers comeback behind Donovan Mitchell's 71 points

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10 observations: Mitchell's 71 points fuel Cavs comeback originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

For the seventh time in NBA history, a player scored 70-plus points in a game.

Unfortunately for the Chicago Bulls, it came at their expense.

Yes, as part of a 145-134 overtime victory, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell exploded for 71 points and 11 assists on 22-for-34 shooting (7-for-15 from 3-point range, 20-for-25 from the line).

Not only is that the most points a player as ever scored against the Bulls in franchise history, the Cavaliers' 21-point comeback was also the fourth-largest in an NBA game this season.

Needless to say, it's a gutting way for the Bulls to fall to 16-21 on the season — plus 7-13 in "clutch" games, 1-4 in overtime games and and 0-3 against the division rival Cavaliers.

Here are 10 observations:

1. The Bulls' offense propelled them to a fast start, which culminated in a 34-27 lead after the first quarter. In the period, they shot 61.9 percent, including 4-for-6 from 3-point range and moved the ball well, handing out eight assists on 13 made baskets while committing just one turnover.

2. Then, the defense hit another gear to fuel an avalanche of a run in the second quarter. The Bulls scored seven points off five Cavaliers turnovers in that frame, and held players not named Mitchell (who picked up steam on a string of difficult shots down the stretch) to nine points on 4-for-13 shooting. They led by as many as 21 points en route to a 65-47 halftime advantage.

3. It would be reasonable to argue that was the best first half the 2022-23 Bulls have played. The Cavaliers' 47 points marked the fewest the Bulls have allowed in a first half all season, and the recipe of activity on and off the ball was encouraging. The Bulls nabbed eight steals, forced eight Cleveland turnovers (which turned into 13 points) and rotated on a string to limit the damage from 3-point range (6-for-20, or 30 percent) in the opening two quarters.

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The Bulls' plus-18 point differential at halftime also marked their third-highest scoring margin at that juncture of a game so far this season, trailing only home blowout victories over the Dallas Mavericks (plus-29) and Indiana Pacers (plus-19).

4. However, the momentum of this game flipped in a third quarter the Cavaliers won 44-31, drawing as close as three points before the Bulls pulled back ahead 96-91 entering the fourth. Two factors loomed above all in explaining that differential: Mitchell and the free-throw line.

Mitchell scored 24 of his eventual 71 points in the third, shooting 6-for-9 from the field and a whopping 12-for-12 at the foul line. From Alex Caruso to Ayo Dosunmu (each of whom had to leave the contest for a time with four fouls) to Derrick Jones Jr., the Bulls did not have a defender that could keep up with Mitchell's lightning-quick first step and he made them play with slashes to the hoop and drawn fouls.

As a team, the Cavaliers visited the free-throw line 18 times in the third quarter, making 16. Their plus-10 margin of made free throws constituted nearly all of their plus-13 scoring margin for the period.

5. The Cavaliers finished the game with a 45-34 advantage in free-throw attempts, 33-27 in fouls called and Caruso fouled out with just over three minutes to play in the fourth quarter.

Certainly, the Bulls were caught out of position, especially when defending Mitchell, often. But there is no denying the officiating was also one-sided, particularly in the third quarter.

The Last Two Minute Report from this one will be interesting to check come Tuesday. One, because of a play at the end of regulation on which Jarrett Allen appeared to shuffle his feet before a lay-in that made the score 126-125 Bulls; and two, because of a missed free-throw tap-in that sent the game to overtime, on which Mitchell appeared to enter the lane early.

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The no-call was especially notable because officials whistled Caruso for two lane violations earlier in the game.

6. All of which is to say: The Cavaliers' comeback thrust did not stop in the third quarter, with Mitchell adding another 18 points in the fourth. But the Bulls stabilized on multiple occasions thanks to bigtime shotmaking by their stars. DeRozan had 11 of his 44 points in the final 12 minutes of regulation. LaVine added eight with a 3-pointer that, paired with an off-ball foul on Kevin Love, put the Bulls up 109-103 with seven minutes to play.

The Bulls' biggest shot of regulation felt symbolic: An extended possession in which LaVine missed a 3-pointer, Nikola Vučević tapped out an offensive rebound, then DeRozan drove and kicked to LaVine, who drove and kicked to a Vučević 3-pointer.

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That put the Bulls ahead 126-123 with 37 seconds to play.

7. But of course, it could not be that easy. After a quick two by Cleveland, Ayo Dosunmu buried two free throws, which the Cavaliers answered with the aforementioned Allen layup. Then, Coby White, who checked in fresh off the bench, made another two foul shots to make it a 130-127 game with 7.1 seconds to play.

Now is where the second-guessing begins.

On the Cavaliers' ensuing inbounds play, Billy Donovan opted to instruct Dosunmu to foul Mitchell as he brought the ball up the court, giving the Cavaliers star two free throws. Mitchell made the first, then floated the second off the back of the rim and scurried into the lane for an impossible-seeming putback and send the game to overtime.

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Donovan substituted Andre Drummond for the play, but it was Patrick Williams who lost Mitchell on his free run to the ball.

8. That sequence catalyzed a 13-0 Cavaliers run spanning Mitchell's first free throw until the 1:05 mark of overtime. In that stretch, Bulls possessions ended with a Williams missed 3-pointer, DeRozan missed pull-up, two Ayo Dosunmu missed 3-pointers and, for good measure, missed 3-pointers by DeRozan and LaVine.

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers saw Mitchell go infernal, adding to his 58 points in regulation with 13 in overtime and a perfect 3-for-3 line from 3-point range.

9. Williams was substituted out of the game for Jones Jr. midway through overtime — and for good reason. Williams was not only responsible for the missed blockout that led to Mitchell's free throw tip-in to close regulation, he also had Allen sky over the top of him for an offensive rebound that led to a Mitchell 3-pointer on Cleveland's first possession of overtime.

10. Yet again, the offensive glass was a problem for the Bulls in this one. They allowed Cleveland 13 offensive boards and 24 second-chance points for the evening, the fourth game in a row a Bulls opponent has cleared 20 second-chance points.

Next up for the Bulls: Back home to host the Brooklyn Nets Wednesday.

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