DEROZAN’S 50 POINTS HELP BULLS TAKE DOWN CLIPPERS, HOLD 5TH PLACE IN EAST DeMar DeRozan
DeMar DeRozan: “The win is more meaningful…No more room to drop any more games; that’s just my mentality.”
It was the last day of March Thursday, though it felt like November again in Chicago, shivering wind driven cold that defied multiple layers, slate skies and slanting rain mixing with snow flurries.
And DeMar DeRozan and the Bulls heating up.
Just in time to spring a playoff upset?
In any case, it felt good as DeRozan reawakened the MVP talk—Magical, Valiant and Paralyzing—with a milestone 50 points, including 27 combined in the fourth quarter and overtime, in a 135-130 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
DeRozan became the sixth Bulls player in franchise history to score at least 50 points in a game, two off his career high, after Zach LaVine last year, Jamal Crawford and Chet Walker once each, Jimmy Butler twice, and Michael Jordan 757 times.
OK, it was 30, but it seemed like more.
It turned for the Bulls and DeRozan Thursday only just enough in perhaps stealing a game they trailed throughout, including by 16 points late in the third quarter and by 11 at 107-96 with just under five minutes remaining. And then down the stretch trailing by eight with just over two minutes in regulation, the Bulls got a huge three from Nikola Vucevic and in the end a Clipper being a Clipper when Terrence Mann fouled DeRozan before the ball was inbounded with seven seconds left and the Clippers leading 118-115.
DeRozan whispered to Alex Caruso, who was inbounding, as they walked on the court that this was his time.
“I know I told AC beforehand I’m going to try to seal him and catch the ball,” DeRozan explained. “I sealed him and felt him push on me; to me it was a good (call).”
The plan for the original shot?
“I had my mind made up what I was going to do once I caught the ball,” said DeRozan. “Tie the game up.”
He didn’t get the first chance with DeRozan standing on the painted Bulls head on the right wing in front of Robert Covington. Mann took DeRozan on a switch. The foul was called as the two struggled for position. At the whistle, DeRozan spun and the shot actually did go in. The officials studied the tape and agreed the foul came before the pass in, which means a technical foul shot.
“I felt it,” said DeRozan. “I wasn’t looking for it, but he was all over me. I’m glad we got the call.”
DeRozan converted the free throw to both eliminate the need for a 3-point shot to tie and the Clippers’ opportunity to foul and have the Bulls now without a timeout shoot two free throws and then have to foul.
So then at 118-116 Clippers, DeRozan did DeRozan, stepping to his left on the inbounds pass as the Clippers tried to bring help for Paul George. That’s been DeRozan’s time this season, if not so much lately. He shot and the ball missed, Zach LaVine crumpling to the floor in apparent disappointment as it looked like another heartbreaking loss. But this George was also mischievously too curious, landing under DeRozan. So three free throws for, amazingly, a chance for the Bulls to win the game with 3.5 seconds left and one of the league’s best free throw shooters on the foul line.
DeRozan tied the game making the first two and then made the winner with…What! He missed?
The 87 percent free throw shooter shot the third one too long as time basically ran out on the miss for overtime.
“That felt like a bomb went off inside my head,” DeRozan said about the missed free throw, which left him with 40 points in regulation. “Frustrated at myself. Just had to lock back in and calm my internal emotions down for overtime.”
Which he did in overtime the Bulls never trailed supported by a Vucevic post up score to start and a big-time Patrick Williams three and running baseline slam dunk off traps on DeRozan and LaVine.
LaVine finished with 21 points and also made his own game-saving play, a drive and pass to a cutting Javonte Green with the Clippers leading by three with under 24 seconds left. Green fumbled the pass, but as it popped into the air LaVine grabbed it and laid in the ball to give DeRozan those chances with George making free throws on intentional fouls.
George had 22 points, but he had to sit out overtime on a minutes restriction since returning from injury. Reggie Jackson led the Clippers with 34 points as the Clippers made 16 3-pointers and shot 50 percent overall.
Vucevic had 22 points and 14 rebounds, and Williams had his best performance of his surgery-interrupted season with 10 points and 12 rebounds to aid a 50-40 Bulls rebounding edge against a big Clippers team. Bulls coach Billy Donovan started Williams in the second half over Caruso to counter the height issues. Coby White added 11 points in some crucial early game scoring that kept the Clippers from running away.
But they couldn’t hide from DeRozan, whose inside scoring led to a staggering 70 points in the paint for the Bulls.
“DeMar is unbelievable,” said Donovan. “After the game he says to me. ‘Sorry for missing the free throw.’ I’m like DeMar, ‘We wouldn’t have been in overtime if it wasn’t for the things you did.’ He was great. We just kept playing and were fortunate things went our way and then came out in overtime and played well. It’s pretty amazing to see what he does. That guy for us is really special.
“The fact he can mentally focus and lock in on what he wants to get done and how he plays,” marveled Donovan. “Some of those guys (who make the big plays) have an unbelievable level of focus and concentration. Whether things slow down for him or his concentration is heightening, it’s pretty amazing. He has great expectations for himself every night. He holds himself to such a high standard and that’s what makes him such a great player. Like the Washington game, he’s two for 12 in the first half. You know he’s going to come out of that and respond because he holds himself to a higher standard and has done that all season.”
And then after a desperation Clippers three with five seconds left in overtime to get within three, DeRozan took the inbounds pass and dunked for 50. He’s back! Are those Bulls of November?
“The win is more meaningful,” DeRozan said. “I just wanted to win this game badly. You see how tight the race is. Every game is extremely important. No more room to drop any more games; that’s just my mentality.”
The Bulls went to 45-32 to sneak a half game ahead of Toronto for fifth in the Eastern Conference. For now, the 76ers fell to fourth after losing to the Pistons Thursday. The Bulls continue this closing five-game home stand Saturday against the Miami Heat.
“Give the guys a lot of credit for hanging in there and continuing to fight and give ourselves a chance,” said Donovan. “It was a struggle for us tonight. We just didn’t shoot the ball well and it bled into our defense a little. And in the second half our guys fought and got back into the game. At times they went on a run, and then we got back in the game. But they were fighting all the way to the end to give ourselves a chance and we were fortunate to get it to overtime.”
So the final result was enough the way the Bulls have stumbled since the All-Star break, and there was a particularly encouraging development with Williams’ zealous play.
“The guys challenged me,” admitted Williams about some halftime advice. “From the top, coach Billy challenged me to be aggressive when I get the ball because they were trapping DeMar and Zach. They showed trust in me so I had to show trust in those situations. I wanted to pretty much answer the challenge and step up to the plate. When I caught it I was thinking too much (in a scoreless first half).”
And perhaps not thinking some, joked DeRozan after hearing that Williams volunteered to media he was late for the Thursday morning shootaround film session. Williams was fined, which is routine, and said he apologized to the team and Donovan and promised to make up for it in the game.
“I felt I let the guys down,” said Williams. “I wanted to come out and give my all and let the guys know I was locked in. Definitely apologized to the guys and said I was going to give it all I had tonight and I was able to make a couple of shots.”
Any reason for the tardiness?
“Just being 20,” Williams shrugged.
Donovan reiterated that Caruso continues to have some back soreness. And Clippers players led by Marcus Morris were merely shooting over Bulls defenders early. So Donovan went to Williams. Before the game, Donovan said Lonzo Ball was going back to “ramping up” his recovery from knee surgery after a 10-day hiatus. But Donovan didn’t have any details or predictions about his potential availability. Donovan did acknowledge without Ball the Bulls’ offense has been much slower, forcing more late shot clock attempts and fewer options for ball movement which again hurt their shooting early as the Bulls were below 40 percent overall in the first half.
The Clippers seemed dominant from the start, leading 32-22 after one, 59-50 at halftime and 92-82 after three quarters shooting 55 percent through three.
But then the joy finally seemed to return for a team that still was playing, but seemingly not having as much fun. Teammates showered DeRozan from water bottles as the game ended. Though DeRozan is sixth in the league in scoring average, because he’s the rare NBA player who plays a lot he leads the league in total points.
And so it went.
Green signaled 5-0 with his hands. LaVine grabbed the game ball to present to DeRozan in the locker room, where there was more water spray. And then as Williams spoke with reporters DeRozan came in shouting, “Way to hit that three! We won because of that three.”
“One of those fun games,” DeRozan agreed. “This is the best time of the year when everything matters.”
Hanging up 50 and an overtime win was perhaps a good restart. Anyone wishing for another November?