On Thursday night, DeMar DeRozan joined Michael Jordan, Jimmy Butler, Zach LaVine, Jamal Crawford and Chet Walker as the only Chicago Bulls in franchise history to post a 50-point game.
He scored 10 points in overtime, 17 points in the fourth quarter and, along with six assists, essentially willed the Bulls to their unlikely 135-130 triumph over the Clippers.
And yet, as a Bulls celebration intensified in the postgame locker room, DeRozan turned to coach Billy Donovan.
“He’s unbelievable,” Donovan said. “The guy after the game said to me, ‘I’m sorry for missing that free throw.’ I’m like, ‘DeMar, we wouldn’t have been in overtime if it wasn’t for the things you did.’”
On an inbounds play, DeRozan drew an away-from-the-play foul on Terrence Mann with 7 seconds left and the Bulls down by three, giving him a free throw and the Bulls another possession. DeRozan sank that free throw and then drew a foul on Paul George while shooting a 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds left.
He sank the first two shots and then missed the potential game-winning free throw, forcing the extra session.
“It felt like a bomb went off inside my head,” DeRozan said. “Just frustrated with myself. Just had to lock back in, calm my internal emotions down for overtime.”
Mission accomplished. From a vicious driving dunk early in overtime to another dunk to give him the second 50-point game of his career---two shy of his career-high---DeRozan played like a man possessed.
Jordan scored 50 or more points an astonishing 30 times in his career. DeRozan isn’t Jordan. But his ability to lift up this season’s Bulls at some of their lowest points is the stuff of greatness.
From his back-to-back, buzzer-beating 3-pointers on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to this epic outing, DeRozan is authoring one of the greatest individual seasons in franchise history.
“The win is more meaningful,” DeRozan said. “I just wanted to win this game badly. You see how tight the race is. Every single game is extremely important. We have no more room to be dropping any more games. That’s just my mentality.”
DeRozan long has been one of the league’s premier performers in clutch time. That’s winning time.
But it’s his hunger for more, his humility and inability to be satisfied, that stands out for a franchise that’s re-establishing its relevance after several seasons of wandering in the wilderness.
“He holds himself to such a high standard,” Donovan said. “That’s part of the reason why he’s such a great, great player. He's special. He really is."
DeRozan became the first Bull to score 2,000 points in a season since Derrick Rose did so during his 2010-11 most valuable player season. It’s only the second such season in DeRozan’s decorated career.
What does that mean to DeRozan in Year 13?
“It means a lot. It means you can get better with age, I guess. Just because you’re getting older don’t mean you gotta slow down any type of way,” he said. “It just shows my work ethic, me taking care of myself physically and always just trying to be better than I was before.”