Mitchell, Cavs remain confident despite 3-1 hole to Knicks


INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Donovan Mitchell launched his final post-practice jumper, flashed two thumbs-ups and grabbed a water bottle before slowly walking across the court to a media session ahead of his biggest game since coming to Cleveland.

The All-Star guard sat against a wall.

The Cavs are in the same precarious position.

After one of the worst performances of his playoff career, Mitchell exuded confidence Tuesday that he and his teammates will bounce back at home Wednesday night in Game 5 of their first-round series against the New York Knicks.

“It’s not over,” he said.

Not yet, and not if Cleveland can take advantage of being back home.

“We’re playing for our season,” Mitchell said, noting his surroundings. “Otherwise we’ll be having the end-of-the-year press conference right here.”

Down 3-1 in the best-of-seven series after dropping two games at ear-splittingly loud Madison Square Garden last weekend, the Cavaliers face the possibility of seeing their successful season end sooner than expected.

They’ve been pushed to the brink of elimination by the Knicks, who have been the tougher, more poised team and are one win from advancing to the second round for the first time since 2013 — and only the second time in 20 years.

Mitchell’s not considering anything but the here and now. For there to be a Game 6, the Cavs have to win Game 5.

“Doesn’t matter how,” Mitchell said. “If it’s ugly. If it’s pretty, If it’s by one. If it’s by 40. Gotta win the game, by any means necessary.”

Of course, it won’t matter if Mitchell doesn’t shoot better than in Game 4. He scored just 11 points — his third-lowest total in 43 postseason games — on 5-of-18 shooting and finished with six turnovers in a forgettable performance he owned afterward.

Mitchell blamed himself for the loss, something his teammates expected but didn’t endorse.

“They always tell me not to do that,” he said. “But it’s who I am. I’m a leader. These guys have helped support me, and I’ve helped support them. So it’s a no brainer for me to own that. I got to be there at that moment, and I wasn’t.

“But I can’t sit here for the past two days and say, ‘ Oh, man I wasn’t there.’ I got to find a way to be there.”

Mitchell described his teammates as “loose” as they prepared for a win-or-else situation most of them have never experienced.

Mitchell’s been here before, but on the opposite side.

While playing in the NBA’s 2020 postseason “bubble” in Florida, Mitchell was with Utah when the Jazz blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets. There was no home-court advantage in that series, but that didn’t ease the sting, which is helping Mitchell guide his Cavs teammates.

“This is an elimination game,” he said. “You got to go out there and play like there’s no tomorrow.”

The odds are stacked against the Cavs, but they have been before.

In league history, only 13 of 271 teams have overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a series, and Cleveland is the only one to do it in the NBA Finals, winning it all in 2016.

Coincidentally, Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff has also been part of a 3-1 comeback. When he and assistant Greg Buckner were on Kevin McHale’s staff in Houston, the Rockets, despite losing Games 3 and 4 by a combined 58 points, rallied to shock the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2015 Western Conference semifinals.

Bickerstaff remembers McHale, who won three titles as a player in Boston, getting the Rockets to “focus on one game.”

He’s preaching the same to the Cavs.

“This should not be a three-game thought process,” he said. “It’s one basketball game and we’ve proven that we can win one game. All you have to do is the job that’s in front of you. This is just about tomorrow.

“One basketball game. We know we’re capable of winning one basketball game.”

The game-at-a-time mantra has sunk in for Mitchell.

“For us, it’s Game 5,” he said. “I’m not worried about anything after that. It’s Game 5, tomorrow at 7 o’clock and just be ready.”


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