DeMar DeRozan reflects on 'dream come true' first season with Bulls
DeRozan was named to the 2021-22 All-Star team and helped lead the Bulls back to the postseason for the first time since 2017.
Remind Me Later •
It seems like if you read Twitter, which isn't really a great idea, actually, and read some of my mail, not everybody among Bulls fans believes it's a great idea to reward and retain Zach LaVine.
Don't include DeMar DeRozan among them.
"Max player, max talent, max everything," DeRozan was saying when asked about LaVine late Wednesday night after the Bulls season ending 116-100 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. "Just the ultimate competitor. It's the best way I can sum it up. We play tic-tac-toe on the plane. I kept beating him and he wouldn't stop or leave me alone until he beat me. That's just him on the court as well."
DeRozan also reiterated about how LaVine and he have become so close.
"It was something that developed in the summer before we even got to training camp," DeRozan said. "We spent a lot of time together working out. We flew from to Chicago a few times, just me and him having conversations on the plane, a lot of dialogue before we even stepped out there on the court. That kind of set the foundation from there. Everything else just kind of carried over once we got on the court.
"He's one of those players in this league you don't see too often," said DeRozan "I tell him all the time how envious I am of the things he's able to do. So he deserves everything that is coming to him, for sure. Outside of basketball being a heck of an individual, on the court being one of the most fierce competitors I've played with."
That was evident not only the way the duo combined to average more than 52 points per game, the most among NBA pairs this season, and the way the Bucks defended the Bulls and DeRozan in Wednesday's clinching game.
Without LaVine's presence, the Bucks' were freed up to send three and four defenders at DeRozan every time he got the ball or attempted a move. The result was 10 field goal attempts and 11 points for DeRozan. DeRozan willingly and repeatedly passed the ball to teammates, who again were the gang who couldn't shoot straight, 15 of 52 on 3-pointers.
"I didn't want to get carried away and go out there and shoot 30 times," said DeRozan. "I trusted my guys. I didn't care how many shots they missed. I felt whenever I had the right pass to make, I'm going to try to make the right play and I'm going to live with that. I'm going to live and die with those guys making the shots any given night. Give the Bucks credit. They locked in and took away what they needed to take away; congrats to them."
But credit and congrats to DeRozan, too.
Because from start to end he lifted the Bulls any way he could.
Though he also understands how much it means having a partner like LaVine.
The Bucks in Game 3 did contest and collapse and surround DeRozan after his 41 points in Game 2, and he had just 11 points on nine field goal attempts in that game. But that also was a game that got away from the Bulls so quickly he didn't play in the fourth quarter. And with LaVine battling through knee problems that limited his participation and effectiveness after the All-Star break; You know, when the Bulls had the best record in the NBA.
And when DeRozan and LaVine were just returning from representing the Bulls at the All-Star weekend. And the Bulls with LaVine's cover and DeRozan's brilliance had just won nine consecutive games for the first time in more than a decade. During which time DeRozan made NBA history and Bulls memories with two of the most dramatic, albeit regular season, game-winning shots that were on consecutive nights.
It wouldn't be long before DeRozan would find the NBA annals with a streak of 35-point scoring games, putting his name alongside Wilt Chamberlain, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, James Harden, Elgin Baylor and Michael Jordan. Hardly expected company with DeMar DeRozan. Also shooting better than 50 percent in eight consecutive games scoring at last 35 points, DeRozan passed the mark set by Chamberlain.
And you don't usually find many with the words "passed the mark set by Chamberlain" in a sentence with their name. DeRozan fell just two short of another of those supposedly unmatchable marks of Jordan's 10 games scoring at least 35. DeRozan was selected NBA Player of the Week three times and Player of the Month in February.
At 32 years old in his 13th NBA season, and considered by many long past his prime after three somewhat forgotten seasons in San Antonio, DeRozan experienced and produced a revival rarely seen in NBA history. He averaged a career-high 27.9 per game, shot higher than 50 percent for the second time in his career, set a career high in 3-point shooting and averaged about five rebounds and five assists. He's certain to be named to an All-NBA team.
And even with the entire Bucks defense focused on him, DeRozan still led the Bulls in scoring in the series at 20.8 points per game, and was second in steals, assists and rebounds.
So despite the disappointment of defeat Wednesday, DeRozan offered nothing but appreciation for this season and this team.
"Perfect. Couldn't have went a better way," he said. "It's been a great year, to say the least, honestly. Just being around the front office, teammates, the city. Everything has been something more than I could've imagined. It's kind of one of those dream come true type of situations, things you didn't expect to happen and it kind of over exceeds your imagination. It's great. I'm already looking forward to next year getting back out there and doing it again."
Because DeRozan still has those title dreams, denied in Toronto following an Eastern Conference finals loss and traded to the Spurs before the Raptors won a title.
"Competing against a championship team, how well you have to execute, how detailed you have to be for 48 minutes defensively. This was a lot of our guys' first rodeo, understanding what it is like to compete in a playoff series," reminded DeRozan. "It's so much you can learn in that kind of series going against the defending champs. It sucks always, sucks to lose a series. But a great learning tool for a lot of us, and especially us as a team."
And like many among the Bulls, especially when DeRozan was rolling and Lonzo Ball was ballin', there was the fleeting thought that maybe this was the time.
"A guy like ‘Zo, he changes the game so many ways offensively, defensively, excitement, the pace the tempo," DeRozan pointed out. "He's one of those dynamic players who can be out on the floor and change the whole trajectory of a game. You're always going to have a what if moment, without a doubt. I try not to dwell on it so much it kind of frustrates you even more thinking about the what ifs. We had a lot of ups and downs. It's been a hell of a ride. It's something I'll be pretty sure I'll look back on it and start to miss it even more. It doesn't always play out how you want."
But there's always next time. DeMar DeRozan will be ready.
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