If there were folks out there who were still questioning the decision to bring DeMar DeRozan to the Chicago Bulls, point them to his fourth-quarter performance against the New York Knicks Thursday night. After building up a 21-point lead in the first half, it looked like the Knicks were going to steal a win away from the Bulls as New York big man Mitchell Robinson converted an and-1 opportunity to cut Chicago’s lead to 92-90 at the start of the fourth quarter.
However, as Bulls head coach Billy Donovan and guard Zach LaVine have touted on numerous occasions, DeRozan’s crunch time heroics were enough to save Chicago’s win. The veteran guard was unstoppable from mid range as he’s been for the majority of his career, sinking shot-after-shot to keep the Bulls’ head above water. He racked up 18 fourth-quarter points to ensure Chicago wouldn’t blow the game. Every turnaround mid-range jumper just looked effortless and low pressure for DeRozan, a demeanor LaVine mentioned is beneficial for the team as a whole.
“It helps our team tremendously, especially if we’re like frantic,” LaVine said. “Obviously he’s been in these big-time games and situations so I don’t think a lot of things rattle him at all. That’s where you just let him take over the game, calm it down, get to the free-throw line and get to his spots. I think it gives the whole team a sense of, like a deep breath.”
That cool, calm and collected attitude has been on fully display in clutch situations for DeRozan this season. He’s averaging 2.8 points in clutch situations (last five minutes of a close game), which ranks ninth in the NBA this season (minimum 10 games). He’s also shooting 58.8 percent from the field in clutch situations, which ranks fourth in the league.
Throughout the season DeRozan’s been a reliable scorer down the stretch for Chicago, much like he was against the Knicks on Thursday. When New York took a 106-105 lead with 4:45 left in the fourth quarter, it was DeRozan’s turnaround mid-range jumper that gave Chicago the lead again. LaVine gave the Bulls the final lead of the night with two clutch free throws, but DeRozan put the icing and cherry on the cake with the final six points of the night to put the game out of reach for the Knicks.
“DeMar for his whole career has been a really, really great closing guy,” Donovan said. “When you give him space and room, whether he’s getting to the free-throw line or he’s making that mid-range jumpshot.”
The win gives the Bulls a 2-1 series win over the Knicks this season, and puts them back up to the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference with a 15-8 record.