Mitchell, ‘tired of losing,’ keys Cavs’ comeback

Sports

CLEVELAND — Donovan Mitchell scored 39 points, Caris LeVert added 15 and the Cleveland Cavaliers avoided a potentially franchise-shifting loss by rallying for a 106-94 win over the Orlando Magic on Sunday in Game 7 to advance in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The Cavs trailed by 18 in the first half and were in danger of being knocked out in the first round for the second year in a row — a scenario that might have led to firings.

But Mitchell, who scored 50 in a Game 6 loss at Orlando and has been battling a left knee injury for months, put the Cavs on his back. He carried them past an up-and-coming Orlando team whose playoff inexperience showed in the second half.

Evan Mobley grabbed 16 rebounds and Darius Garland hit a critical 3-pointer in the fourth for Cleveland, which won its first playoff series without LeBron James since 1993.

The Cavs’ 18-point deficit is the largest for a winning team in a Game 7 since at least 1997, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Cleveland will begin the second round on the road against the top-seeded and well-rested Boston Celtics in Game 1 on Tuesday.

In the closing minutes, Cleveland’s towel-waving crowd chanted, “We want Boston!” — a matchup that didn’t look likely an hour earlier.

Paolo Banchero scored 38 — just 14 after halftime — and added 16 rebounds to lead the Magic, who showed growth in the series but couldn’t figure out how to win in Cleveland as both teams held serve on their floors.

Orlando’s Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs went a combined 3-of-28 from the field.

Down by 10 at halftime, Cleveland raised its defensive intensity in the third quarter and outscored Orlando 33-15. The Magic went just 4-of-24 from the field in the period and seemed hesitant while waiting for Banchero to do more.

The Cavs were up 85-77 in the fourth when Garland, who expressed frustration earlier in the half before getting a pep talk on the bench from Mitchell, drained a 3-pointer from the corner to put Cleveland up 11.

After his shot dropped and Orlando called a timeout, a relieved Garland hugged Mitchell, who was acquired in a trade two years ago from Utah to try to get Cleveland closer to another championship.

The Cavs took another step with him.

Cleveland was again without starting center Jarrett Allen, who missed the final three games in the series with a rib injury sustained from an errant Magic elbow.

Before he got hurt, Allen was Cleveland’s most consistent player against the Magic, grabbing 20 rebounds in Game 2 while giving the Cavs a defensive presence underneath to deter Orlando drives.

Led by the 21-year-old Banchero, the Magic, who only won 22 games two years ago before they selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, were 24 minutes from winning a series they trailed 2-0.

But Orlando didn’t have enough — and Mitchell did.

Whenever the Cavs needed a big play, the All-Star guard made one. Whenever a teammate needed support, he was there. And in scoring 89 points in the final two games, Mitchell may have finally silenced critics who point to his inability to close in the playoffs.

The Cavs trailed by 18 in the first half and seemed on the verge of an early summer.

But with LeVert and Sam Merrill providing a spark, Cleveland was able to cut into Orlando’s lead. Cleveland missed its first nine 3-pointers and was in big trouble down 47-39.

LeVert, who has been slowed by a knee injury, attacked the basket and scored on two drives and Merrill hit his second 3-pointer as the Cavs made seven of their last nine shots to pull within 53-43 at halftime.

The offensive woes that plagued Cleveland in the fourth quarter of Game 6 — when Mitchell scored all 18 points for the Cavs — carried over.

There was too much standing around, bad shots and turnovers, and when the Magic reeled off 13 straight to open a 10-point lead, Cleveland’s crowd let the Cavs know it with more than a smattering of boos.

But in the end, as Mitchell dribbled out the final seconds, all was forgotten.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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