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Donovan Mitchell's 71 points, questionable calls and yet another new low for the Bulls

Will Gottlieb Avatar
January 3, 2023

Donovan Mitchell. 71 points.

22-of-34 from the field. 7-of-15 from three. 20-of-25 from the line. Eight rebounds. Eleven assists.

The Cleveland Cavaliers come back to beat the Chicago Bulls 145-134 in overtime.

Before getting into this from the Bulls side, let’s put Mitchell’s performance into perspective.

This game was the 10th time in NBA history a player has scored 71 or more points. Mitchell is just the sixth player to do so. This was the most points scored in a game since Kobe Bryant’s 81 points in January 2006. No player has ever scored 70 points and also dished out 10 assists.

This was an absolutely historic performance and yet another low point for the Bulls, who led by as many as 21 in the second quarter and who played their best defensive half of the season.

Of course, the officiating must also be discussed. Mitchell got to the line 16 times alone in the third quarter, launching his point total and neutering the Bulls’ ability to defend him.

And of course, the phantom lane violation that saw the Bulls take the brunt end of a missed call for the second straight game.

“Listen, it’s been two games in a row,” Billy Donovan told reporters in Cleveland via NBC Sports Chicago’s KC Johnson. “DeMar obviously got fouled the other night against them. And I think the Two Minute Report will come out and say he crossed the line. I could be wrong and if I’m wrong, I’ll apologize. But at least what I saw on film, it made it hard for Patrick to block him out because he was certainly across the free-throw line before the ball hit the rim. And if that’s the case, it’s a violation.”

“It doesn’t do anything. ‘We’re sorry.,'” Donovan continued. “But it could be three games now. It could be at Washington, it could be the other game and it could be this game. And that’s unfortunate because I felt our guys battled and competed. And again, we have to control what we can control. Obviously, we gotta block out better regardless of the situation. We know they’re going to miss. We gotta go in there and get it done. Whatever it is in the last game, we have to overcome things. I’m just a big believer in that. I think a lot of times you can look around and look at what everyone else is doing wrong rather than looking at yourself and what we can do better. Clearly, there’s a lot we can do better. So I’m going go dwell on that too much.”

Certainly the officiating impacted the result. But this is not about one play or one call. It will not be “the game Donovan Mitchell got away with a lane violation” or “the day the refs stuck it to the Bulls.”

It will be the day he scored 71 points.

And that may not even be rock bottom for a team that seems to find a new low each week.

Pick one:

Lonzo Ball having a second surgery days before the start of the season. Zach LaVine getting benched in a loss to the Magic. Giving up 150 to the Timberwolves and getting into a locker room “blowup.” Losing to the Knicks in back-to-back home games. Losing to the Rockets after finally stringing some wins together. Giving up 51 points to Devin Booker in just three quarters. Giving up 71 to Donovan Mitchell.

Yes, the officiating negatively impacted the Bulls. Yes, Mitchell could have gotten called for a lane violation. But these things don’t just happen to good teams. The NBA is not doing this to the Bulls. There have been missed calls, but the refs are not out to get them. The basketball gods aren’t frowning upon them.

Those things can be true and the Bulls were a disaster in the second half. And they have been for the majority of the season. And there are much bigger problems to address.

At the end of the day, the Bulls record is their record.16-21. Five games under 0.500. Tied for 11th place in the East.

Missed calls can’t change that now.

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