Bulls Insider

Why special season for Bulls, DeRozan has staying power

/ by K.C. Johnson
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
Bulls Insider

INDIANAPOLIS — This Chicago Bulls season carried a special feel to it well before Friday’s 108-106 victory over the Indiana Pacers.

But DeMar DeRozan took the magic to another level with his ridiculous, one-legged, 27-foot, buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

And if that’s a lot of adjectives, well, that’s a lot of victories in a row — six, to be exact. That this last one pushed the Bulls into a tie atop the Eastern Conference with the favored Brooklyn Nets seemed to carry extra significance.

The same Nets team the Bulls already have clinched the season series and playoff tiebreaker with by beating twice.

Happy New Year’s Eve, indeed.

“The games come so fast in the NBA. I don’t think you have much time to turn around and look,” acting head coach Chris Fleming said. “We’re flying to Washington now. We’re going to play again. I don’t think we’re spending a whole lot of time with that.”

This is the right answer. Spoken by an assistant coach who is ably filling in for Billy Donovan as he sits in the league’s health and safety protocols.

It’s all part of the Bulls’ next-man up mentality that has defined this season. Much like the resilience that has been on display more often than not as they’ve moved to 13 games over .500.

On a night the Bulls didn’t play well — got outrebounded, beat to loose balls, you name it — they still showed the grit and poise to make critical plays down the stretch. A Coby White 3-pointer. An Ayo Dosunmu contest on Caris LeVert’s final shot. A White hustle play to rebound for the final possession.

 

And then Mr. Fourth Quarter strikes again. On a rare off night in which he shot 8-for-24, DeRozan delivered.

“As soon as it left my hand, it felt good,” DeRozan said.

Most everything DeRozan has touched this season has come up gold. So that’s no surprise. He’s the single biggest reason the Bulls sit where they do.

But this team isn’t just built on stars like DeRozan and Zach LaVine. It’s built on substance.

The Bulls have weathered everything thrown at them — 17 players and a head coach among those placed in protocols during a team-wide outbreak — and handled it all with a professionalism and belief and resilience that stands out.

The Bulls may not finish atop the Eastern Conference ahead of the Nets. But they’re not going away.

“Credit to our hard work,” DeRozan said. “We’ve been battling COVID protocols for it feels like these last two months. For the team to hold on and sustain like we’re doing and end the year off atop our conference speaks volumes to what type of team we are and what type of team we can be once we get back to full strength.”

That’s the thing. The Bulls rarely have been at full strength this season and sit where they do. So it’s not just DeRozan. It’s depth.

“Take away Coby from this game, we don’t win,” DeRozan said.

That’s another aspect to this team. It has humility and genuine happiness for each other’s success.

DeRozan is right about White’s contributions — 24 points and six 3-pointers. But not every star has the presence of mind to say such things, particularly after sinking such an improbable and emotional game-winner.

DeRozan said he pulled LaVine aside in the first half as the Pacers began bullying the Bulls into second-chance points — they had 25 — and using physical defense to throw them off their shots.

“I told him it’s just going to be one of those ugly games that going to comes down to a last possession,” DeRozan said. “And it did. And it was a helluva win to pull out.”

At this point, is anybody surprised?

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