CLEVELAND — There’s a good chance that as this is being read, Donovan Mitchell has just scored another basket against the Bulls.
Considering that he had 71 points — the most a player has ever scored against the franchise — it wouldn’t feel far-fetched.
The Bulls blew a 21-point lead in the first half before losing 145-134 in overtime to the Cavaliers.
It never should have reached OT.
With 4.1 seconds left and Cleveland down by three, Mitchell made his first free throw, leaving him with no choice but to purposely miss the second. He did but cut toward the rim, avoiding Patrick Williams’ box-out, and put his own miss in to tie the score.
DeMar DeRozan had a tough look on a three-poiner and missed, and once the overtime started, the Bulls looked defeated. They eventually were, as Mitchell continued his scoring assault, giving him the highest scoring performance in the NBA since Kobe Bryant’s 81 in 2006.
“It’s humbling, and it hasn’t even sunk in yet,’’ Mitchell said. “I haven’t been the best and just needed to force myself into the game. I tried to set the tone early. Coming into the third, I just told myself, ‘Make the simple play.’ ’’
He scored 24 points in the third alone.
But it was the free-throw blunder that was hard for the Bulls (16-21) to swallow.
Coach Billy Donovan rarely criticizes anything outside of his own locker room, but he had trouble with that play.
“It’s a clear violation, unequivocally [Mitchell was] crossing the line on the basket before the ball ever touches the rim,’’ Donovan said. “He beat Patrick, but kind of the reason he beat Patrick was because he went in there too early. Listen, in that situation, we have to find a way to come up with the ball.’’
Williams knew that and even had a hard time getting through the postgame interview without showing some of that emotion.
“I did hear other guys saying he kind of left early; regardless, I feel like we’ve got to come up with that rebound,’’ Williams said. “Obviously, the officiating didn’t go our way all night, so I shouldn’t have expected it to go our way late in the game, especially down the stretch.
“Put that on me. I’ve just got to get that rebound anyway. I’ve just got to get it.’’
The other gut punch in the latest loss was the Bulls couldn’t have asked for a better first half, looking like they knew Cleveland’s offensive sets better than the Cavs did.
Not only did the Bulls handcuff the Cavaliers for only 20 points in the second quarter, but they went into halftime with six steals and 13 points off eight turnovers. It was arguably the best first half the Bulls have played since they dismantled Dallas early last month.
All that hard work quickly disappeared, however, and Mitchell was the reason why.
All he did was help cut into the 21-point deficit, and he did it from everywhere. The one place that irked Donovan the most, however, was they put Mitchell at the free-throw line far too often. Mitchell shot 7-for-15 from three-point range but also went 20-for-25 from the free-throw line.
Donovan threw Alex Caruso on him, put Ayo Dosunmu on him, double-teamed him, and it still didn’t slow him down.
Near the end of his news conference, Mitchell was asked if he had ever scored 71 in a game at any level, and after thinking about it, he smiled and replied, “In [NBA]2K.’’
NOTE: Javonte Green missed his ninth game with inflammation in his right knee, and this latest setback was starting to concern the highly energetic wing player enough that he will again see team doctors in Chicago on Tuesday.