CLEVELAND — It’s only been two games, but over the weekend, Donovan Mitchell resembled a mere mortal.
That’s actually somewhat understandable. Mitchell missed four straight games with a hamstring strain before returning Saturday to face the Los Angeles Lakers.
He went just 4-of-18 shooting, sort of hobbling near the end. He chalked it up to cramping.
Things didn’t go much better Sunday vs. the Toronto Raptors, with Mitchell finishing 4-of-17 from the field. Also, over the past two games combined, he is 2-of-11 on 3-pointers.
This isn’t intended to pick on Mitchell, the Cavs’ leading scorer (27.0 ppg), and it may not be anything more than a shooting slump. The first game back after a leg injury is historically a difficult one for guys who, you know, rely on their legs. The back half of a second game in two nights can be even more difficult.
But Mitchell’s weekend showing makes you wonder if he’s totally healthy or just still in need of in-game reps. Clearly, the lift hasn’t been there on his shots.
That said, guess who sealed Sunday’s win with the game’s final points? You guessed it, none other than Mitchell, who went to the line and coolly sank two free throws with 9.6 seconds left.
“Donovan knows we have the ultimate belief in him,” coach J.B. Bickerstaff told the media. “And the law of averages means in the next coming games, there’s going to be an explosion. And we believe in him, his teammates believe in him. But it’s about the team, and his teammates stepped up on a night where he didn’t have a great shooting night, but [Mitchell] didn’t let that deter him either.”
Bickerstaff speaks the truth. Mitchell has been going hard to the basket, trying to draw fouls and not letting his shooting struggles bring him down. He spent a big part of Sunday rooting on Darius Garland and the rest of his teammates, pumping his fist and offering high fives when things went right.
As for Bickerstaff’s predictions of an explosion, there indeed will be plenty more from Mitchell. And with the sizzling Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks coming to town, Tuesday would be a good time to start.
“I think it’s just a matter of being out for a while and getting used to it,” Bickerstaff said of Mitchell after the loss to the Lakers. “We wouldn’t ever put a guy in a position to play minutes that he’s not prepared for. … It’s NBA basketball, and you can’t rep that out without doing it. So I think it’s just a matter of him getting his legs under him from being out.”