As the chaos swirled around him and his new teammates treated ball security as if it were optional, DeMar DeRozan stood out as a beacon of calm.
DeRozan has done what he did Monday night in Toronto many, many times before. Nine seasons as the face of the Raptors franchise afforded him plenty of opportunity.
But to do it in his fourth game as a Chicago Bull, to hit three crucial jumpers and sink two huge free throws in the final 4 minutes 24 seconds of a taut game, well, let’s just say the big contract is being earned.
“Just doing my job. Just using my experience, understanding those moments. Understanding what needs to be done,” DeRozan said. “We got kind of stagnant. We couldn’t score. It’s always my job, especially late-game, to get to my spots and try to make big shots. It’s something that I’m not shy of. I always want those moments and understand the magnitude of it.
“It was part of the reason they wanted me to come here — being in those moments, understanding how to deal with those moments. It’s a learning experience, me just teaching other guys. When the game turns that way, it’s kind of on me to slow it down and get to my spots.”
DeRozan did that, burying jumpers of 16, 12 and 14 feet before sinking two free throws with 24 seconds left to help the Bulls avoid an epic collapse in a 111-108 victory.
“You live for those moments. I get up for those moments. I love them,” DeRozan said. “Since a kid, just having an imagination of hitting big shots in a dark room. You kind of feed into that when 20,000 fans are watching you.”
In the final five minutes, the rest of the Bulls, who once held a 20-point lead, scored six points with four turnovers. DeRozan scored eight with zero turnovers.
His 10-for-10 performance from the free-throw line and ball security addressed big needs for this team. So does his fourth-quarter scoring. He’s now 9-for-17 from the field and 6-for-6 from the line for a team-high 25 points in four fourth quarters.
"He put us on his back pretty much and carried the 4th quarter out for us and got us a win, essentially,” Lonzo Ball said. “I got 100 percent trust in him. We're very comfortable when he has the ball. We know he's going to make the right play and take us to the promised land."
And DeRozan’s stabilizing presence didn’t stop with his on-court action. Asked afterward what the Bulls being the only unbeaten team in the Eastern Conference meant, DeRozan scored a bulls-eye again.
“It don’t mean nothing. We got a long way to go. We got a lot more to clean up, to learn,” he said. “It’s a long season. It’s great. But we gotta move on to the next game. We can’t carry this record like it’s some type of badge of honor. We have to understand that the next game is going to be even harder.”