Chicago – DeMar DeRozan timed his move perfectly. As soon as a pass came his way, he pounced.
In the biggest moment of the night, when the Bulls were desperate for a play, the fourth quarter champ was ready again.
But this time DeRozan did it on defense.
With the Bulls trailing by 2 with 11.1 seconds left in regulation, DeRozan intercepted an inside pass that Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo was intended for Grayson Allen. DeRozan saved the ball from going out of bounds by flicking it to Ayo Dosunmu, who completed a dunk to tie the game before Antetokounmpo’s attempt to chase down with 7.8 seconds wide.
The play of the night was what was a wild 119-113 thriller that didn’t bring the Bulls a hit in business.
Stealing Claw from DeRozan@tweet | @tweet pic.twitter.com/n2DXRcHNLQ
– Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) December 29, 2022
Chicago trailed by 15 points in the fourth quarter as Antitokonmo (45 points, 22 rebounds and seven assists) dominated throughout the game. The Bulls allowed the Bucks to build their biggest lead by starting in the fourth missing their first six shots while committing two turnovers. With the scoreboard quickly becoming lopsided, the Bulls seemed headed for another lethargic loss. This is just when Chicago looks like it’s at its best when the Bulls have to ride out a huge deficit and work twice as hard just to have a chance at winning.
“We’ve got a lot of confident guys, people who can play,” said Bulls guard Zach LaVine. “And we have faith in each other.”
Nobody deserves more than DeRozan.
His steals in the closing seconds of regulation were punctuated by a terrific all-around performance, one that featured several stellar defensive sequences, stellar playmaking and, of course, his patented shot-making. Two nights after they fell in embarrassing fashion to the worst in the Western Conference, the Houston Rockets, DeRozan refused to let the Bulls lose. His game-changing steal was one of two he recorded. He was also credited with firing two masked bullets. DeRozan even took over, stubbornly shutting down Antetokounmpo in the transition attempt.
“I just made some big plays in the key moments of the game where it was essential for us,” DeRozan said. “That’s a big thing, trying to make a win playing late in the game.”
Call them the little things that add up and put the bulls in a position to win.
“Honestly, I loved his passing tonight,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “I loved the level of confidence he showed throwing the ball to Ayew on the wing and Pat (Williams) in the corner. He made some really good passes. And those guys didn’t hit the ball very well on those shots, but the level of confidence, we need that.”
DeRozan finished with a team score of 42 points on 15-for-25 shooting. He did not take a 3-pointer. But he shot 12 of 14, added 10 rebounds and had five assists against one turnover in 44 minutes. In overtime, DeRozan scored 10 of the Bulls’ 13 points. He added seven more in the fourth quarter.
“He has such a soul to him that he just feels like he’s going to overcome any obstacle or challenge that he has,” Donovan said. “But along the way, on both ends of the earth, I thought he played an incredible game. I got 42 points, but there were so many other things he did to contribute to the win.”
It was the kind of complete performance the Bulls crave from their best players. Donovan publicly challenged DeRozan, Lavigne and Nikola Vucevic last month to be better. All three excelled at different points. Getting the best performances out of the three on both ends, along with the team players, and on the same night was a huge task. But on Wednesday, it was DeRozan who set the tone.
DeRozan also took exception to what appeared to be excessive contact from Allen midway through the third quarter. Williams missed Allen, and his momentum carried him into DeRozan – with his elbow landing awkwardly close to DeRozan’s neck. After crashing to the ground, DeRozan jumped up and immediately lunged at Allen looking up to confront him. Allen, of course, knocked out longtime Alex Caruso last season after a hard foul resulted in a broken wrist.
DeRozan explains tonight’s heated exchange with Bucks guard Grayson Allen: “His track record. If it had been Boban, I would have done nothing.” pic.twitter.com/82tJfBA3NU
– Darnell Mayberry December 29, 2022
“His track record,” DeRozan said when asked about his heated reaction. “If it was Boban (Marjanovic), I wouldn’t have done anything. But who knows? I didn’t know if it was on purpose or what happened. It just felt like an overkill. That’s all it was.”
Ninety seconds later, DeRozan was whistled for a double technical foul with former Bulls forward Bobby Portis for jawing him back and forth during free throws. He refused to take credit for Allen.
“Nobody can motivate me (beyond) what I already am,” DeRozan said. “He did nothing for me.”
DeRozan simply refused to lose. And when the game was on the line, he did a lot to motivate the bulls to win.
Chicago started overtime as it did in the fourth quarter: missed shots. Williams fell short of the first two points as the Bucks opened up to a four-point lead. DeRozan then lost the ball in the lane, and was stripped by Bucks guard Wesley Matthews. Disaster seemed imminent. Five extra minutes of basketball was an inevitable loss. But that’s when DeRozan donned his robe.
He bunted the ball on the drive. Then two free throws. Then a mid-range pullover. Just like that, two bulls lead. The Bucks never scored again.
When he stood on the foul line with 13.9 seconds left, waiting for the ball and second shot that would push Chicago’s lead into the fourth, DeRozan received MVP cheers from the stunned United Center crowd.
He delivered again.
“It’s very theatrical,” DeRozan said. “That’s what makes it such a great movie. We just have to finish it off on a good note. But it sure was entertaining.”
(Photo by Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan exchanging words after a foul with Grayson Allen and Bobby Portis of the Bucks: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)