Mitchell, 'tired of losing,' keys Cavs' comeback

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CLEVELAND — Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell brought the basketball up the court early in the third quarter of Game 7 against the Orlando Magic.

His team was amid a ferocious comeback after trailing by as much as 18 points in the first half. Mitchell took three dribbles after he crossed half court to position himself at the top of the 3-point arc and launched a 26-foot shot.

That basket cut their deficit to four. It swung the momentum back clearly to their side, and the Cavs rode the wave to their eventual 106-94 win — pushing them into the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time since 2019. It’s their first time making it to the second round without LeBron James in 30 years.

Coming off of his 50-point game in Game 6, Mitchell scored 39 points in Game 7. His 89 points over the final two games of the series are the second most in Games 6 and 7 in NBA history, trailing only Allen Iverson’s 90 in 2001.

“I’m tired of losing in the first round,” Mitchell said. “You work too hard. We work too hard. That was my mindset … for me, just be in attack mode. I’m battling through what I’m battling through, but I could battle through it and figure it out, or rehab it for the next three or four months. That’s where I’m at mentally.”

Mitchell has been laboring through a knee injury, the same one that’s lingered all season. Throughout the game, he hobbled around, grimaced and fought against his body. But, in his eyes, he had no choice.

Throughout most of the first half, Mitchell struggled. He had 15 points and was just 1-of-7 with Jalen Suggs as his primary defender.

From midway through the second quarter until the end of the third, however, Mitchell outscored the Magic 20-19 on his own. All but six of his points — nine of his 11 field goals made — were in the paint.

“He’s a competitor,” Darius Garland said. “He’s a go-getter. He’s a winner — that’s all he talks about. He wants us to get over this hump. He’s going to do anything possible to get us over it.”

After falling behind early, the Cavs remained confident. Mitchell said he was glad Orlando went on its run early because that gave Cleveland time to mount a rebuttal. In the closing minutes of the second half, the Cavs’ climb back into the game was slow and gritty.

In the locker room at halftime, the message being spread was to remain even-kneeled. Then in the third quarter, the Cavs finally put together their run. It started with Mitchell’s 3.

Cleveland’s 18-point comeback is the largest in a Game 7 since at least 1997. After the Magic went up 47-29 with 5:10 to go in the second quarter, the Cavs outscored them by 30 through the rest of the game, shooting 57% from the field while holding Orlando to 27%.

After Game 6, the Cavaliers emphasized the need to provide Mitchell some help. In Orlando, he was the only Cleveland player to score in the final 14 minutes of the game. The Cavs knew that couldn’t be the case in Game 7.

“[Mitchell is] the guy that can pull everybody along, not just with his skill but in spirit as well,” Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “When you see your teammate, a guy you care about playing that way, you don’t want to let that guy down so you go out and do whatever you can to help that guy.

“We talk about how everybody has their style and their piece of leadership here and that’s how Don leads, by being special in the moment. His teammates want to be a part of it.”

Multiple times throughout the game, Mitchell put his arms around his teammates on the bench while yelling in their ears. He huddled the group up during stoppage when he was on the court. He bear-hugged and celebrated them when they hit a shot or made a stop.

Caris LeVert finished with 15 points, Max Strus got 13 and Garland had 12. Evan Mobley got 11 points, 16 rebounds and 5 blocks and held Orlando to 6-of-22 shooting as the primary contester.

“This is always definitely a special moment for this group, in particular, who has been through so much this year — who’s been left for dead multiple times by a lot of people,” Bickerstaff said. “For them to come together in this moment and figure it out … we’re most proud of that, but we’re not done yet.”

That “not done yet” mindset is shared by every Cavaliers player as they make a quick turnaround to face the Boston Celtics on Tuesday.

Rinsing the nasty taste from their mouths because of how their short playoff run ended last year was just a part of the team’s overall goal this season.

“We didn’t make the group we made just to come in and win the first round,” Mitchell said. “We accomplished one goal, now we have to do it again. That’s the mindset. … When they traded for me, it wasn’t just to win a first-round series, it was to continue to push and move forward. And I think that’s where all of our heads are at.”

Information from ESPN Stats 7 Information was used in this report.

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