Phoenix Suns face red-hot Donovan Mitchell after career 71-point blast

CLEVELAND — Mikal Bridges watched Donovan Mitchell go bonkers in scoring a career-high 71 points in leading Cleveland to an overtime win Monday night over Chicago.

So, he reached out to Mitchell on Instagram to get a couple of things straight before they face each Wednesday night at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

“I sent him a lot of IG DMs, a lot of voice memos,” Brides said. “Kept telling him, ‘Hey bro, don’t try to come get 80 tomorrow.’ Don’t try to do that. I know you got the hot hand. Calm that down.”

Bridges and the Phoenix Suns (20-18) have a tall task trying to stop Mitchell as they look to end what has been a rough six-game road trip with a win over Cleveland (24-14).

“You always want to finish out a road trip on a winning note, but in order to do that, it has to be a step-by-step process,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “We have to stack solid as best we can and not get deflated if you miss a few shots. I thought that hurt us in the first half (Monday at New York).”

Jan 2, 2023;  New York, New York, United States;  Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams looks at the scoreboard after calling a timeout in the second quarter against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

Losers of six of its last seven games, Phoenix is ​​1-4 on the trip with the win coming at Memphis. The Suns lost Devin Booker to a left groin strain in the first quarter of a Christmas loss to Denver to begin the road trip. He then returned to Phoenix.

“Don’t get crazy discouraged,” Suns All-Star point guard Chris Paul said. “We can run off 10 a row. You’ve just got to be consistent and try to be better.”

Mitchell passed Booker’s 70-point blast to land in the top 10 all-time highest scoring games.

  • 1. Wilt Chamberlain (PHW)* 100 1962-03-02
  • 2. Kobe Bryant (LAL)* 81 (2006-01-22)
  • 3. Wilt Chamberlain (PHW) * 78 1961-12-08
  • 4.David Thompson (DEN)* 73(1978-04-09)
  • 4. Wilt Chamberlain (SFW)* 73 (1962-11-16)
  • 4. Wilt Chamberlain (PHW)* 73 (1962-01-13)
  • 7. Wilt Chamberlain (SFW)* 72 (1962-11-03)
  • 8. Donovan Mitchell (CLE) 71 (2023-01-02)
  • 8. David Robinson (SAS)* 71 (1994-04-24)
  • 8. Elgin Baylor (LAL)* 71 (1960-11-15)
  • 11. Devin Booker (PHO) 70 (2017-03-24)
  • 11. Wilt Chamberlain* (SFW) 70 (1963-03-10).

Now Phoenix has the follow-up game against Mitchell.

“He’s just really dynamic,” Suns guard Landry Shamet said. “Confident player. Obviously, he’s feeling really good about himself right now. I think with any player like that, though, it’s trying to disrupt their timing and comfort early.”

Williams sees Mitchell’s performance as just a continuation of explosive scoring nights throughout the league.

“Luka (Doncic) is going for whatever he’s doing, Book has gone for 58,” Williams said.

Doncic has scored at least 50 in three of his last six games that included a career-high 60 Dec. 27 against the Knicks.

“I’ve never seen so many guys score so many points like this close together. I don’t know if it’s the new league, officiating, shot making, I don’t know what it is, but I don’t know if that happened this frequently when I played. Once you got to 40, somebody was probably taking you out.”

Mitchell shot 22-of-34 from the field, going 7-of-15 from 3, but what stuck out to Williams the most was seeing Mitchell track down his own missed free throw and score with three seconds left in regulation to force overtime.

“You could see it coming,” Williams said. “It made us, we’re looking at what we’re doing in that environment ’cause that’s something we have to get better at.”

There are obvious keys to defending a great scorer like forcing him to his weak hand, contesting his shot and having solid help defense.

The Suns will likely implement those into their game plan for Mitchell with Bridges being the primary defender.

“I’ll just try to use my length and I got four teammates behind me to help,” Bridges said.

Williams said staying composed after Mitchell, a shot maker, hits a tough one is key to defending him as well.

“I don’t know if you can stop a guy like that,” Williams said. “I think you have to have the mental fortitude and stamina that when he does make a tough shot is to get the ball inbounds and go right back down the floor. I think too many times during an NBA season, you watch around the league, some of these really good players make shots and everybody is exasperated about it. That’s what they do. That’s why the guy makes $30-plus million a year. It’s like why are you surprised by that? You have to have, in my opinion, some stamina and poise in those moments and go right back at their team, not just Donovan.”

Jan 2, 2023;  Cleveland, OH, USA;  Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell (45) reacts after a basket during the second half against the Chicago Bulls at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.  Mitchell set the franchise record for points with 71. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Have an opinion on the current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at [email protected] or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.

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