Bulls beat Nets as DeRozan has another big fourth quarter
DeMar DeRozan scored 13 of his 29 points in the final period as Zach LaVine chipped in seven of his game-high 31 points in the fourth quarter as the Bulls improved to 16-8 with the victory.
Remind Me Later •
So will we look back at Dec. 4, 2021 as a day that will live in infamy for the Brooklyn Nets, the day that the torch was passed in the Eastern Conference with DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine again outplaying Kevin Durant and James Harden in Saturday's Bulls 111-107 victory over the Brooklyn Nets?
It was the second Bulls win this season over the conference favorite Nets, the Bulls thus already with the season series win and, if necessary, playoff tiebreaker with an average victory margin of 13.5 per game and DeRozan and LaVine once again the more reliable duo in the final throes of competition.
DeRozan, the NBA's fourth quarter scoring leader for the season, had 13 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, maneuvering deftly inside the three-point arc for jumper after jumper. Then DeRozan handed the scoring baton to LaVine for a pair of drives for points, LaVine with seven of his game high 31 points in the fourth quarter as his maturing game included 11 of 13 free throws, eight rebounds and six assists, both one short of Lonzo Ball's team high in the latter two categories.
Then after Durant smoothly lined in a three pointer to bring the Nets within 107-105 with 39.7 seconds to go, DeRozan took charge and the ball. He dribbled out of the backcourt, picked up by Harden (bad idea). He beat him (as everyone does), but that drew Durant to double team. The Nets used the seven-foot Durant to defend DeRozan for much of the game. And 29 points later...
DeRozan passed to Ball on the right wing. The defensive-minded point guard had not shot well in the two New York games, three of 14 in Thursday's win over the Knicks and two of nine and one of six on threes before the pass from DeRozan with 18 seconds left. Ball didn't hesitate and swished the decisive three, going into a Steph Curry-like crouch as he watched the ball go through and even sprinting back on defense in a sort of Curry low crawl dance.
Dancing on the graves of the Nets? And remembering the days when Durant and Harden meant victory and not vanquished?
"We trust him," said DeRozan. "Shows a lot about who Zo is. I had utmost confidence when I saw him space up for that three. I knew he was going to knock it down. It says a lot about our team, how resilient, (how) we approach challenges. We don't shy away from them, we accept them.
"I'm proud of every single guy on that team night in and night out," DeRozan added. "It's difficult to win in this league, especially coming into two hostile environments on the road, playing against the best team in our conference, to withstand the blow we took from them the whole game (trailing by 11 midway through the third quarter), to buckle down in the fourth quarter and pull out a victory. We're having fun, enjoying one another. I tell these guys every time you have to live in the moment and appreciate it, can't take anything for granted. When you have a group like this you can come in hostile environments and come out victorious."
Sure it's early and all those disclaimers, and Bulls coach Billy Donovan in his best sweat pants and whistle mentality cautioned not to make too much of any one win, how much work remains, how much season remains and how the Bulls have to keep improving. We'd expect nothing else.
But if the evidence was fragmentary, the effect was fulfilling. This was a special, if also sublime win, not just for the moment but for the accumulation.
It gave the Bulls the unique feat of sweeping the Lakers and Clippers in Los Angeles and the Knicks and Nets in New York, which no one else has done this season. It left the Bulls at 16-8, a half game behind the Nets for first place in the Eastern Conference almost a third of the way through the season; and it's no fluke. The Bulls lead or are essentially even with the Nets in just about every major metric like margin of victory, offensive efficiency, effective field goal percent, true shooting percentage, and even rebound better despite being outrebounded 55-47 (23-4 in second chance points) Saturday.
But even with Alex Caruso going out early in the game after exacerbating his hamstring issue and Javonte Green joining Coby White with a Covid absence, the Bulls defense frustrated Harden into five of 21 shooting by repeatedly denying him in the lane and at the basket. The Nets shot just 41 percent overall and made and attempted fewer threes with the Bulls annoying habit of blocking their view of the rim.
The Bulls had 10 blocks as Derrick Jones led with four, Ball with three and rookie Ayo Dosunmu with two. Getting a larger role with White and Green out, Dosunmu had one of his best games of the season with 11 points and five of six shooting, his second double digit scoring game against the Nets with a team best plus-16 margin. He has four double-figure games this season, averaging 13 points against the Nets and five against the rest of the league.
He likes the big ones.
"It's just about staying mentally prepared and locked in," said Dosunmu. "The previous two games I didn't play as many minutes. Whether I'm playing a lot or I'm not playing a lot, always stay locked in because you never know when your opportunity presents itself. My motto is stay ready so you don't have to get ready. I tell myself before every game brick by brick, set a foundation; try to get better each game."
The Bulls appear to be doing that as well led by DeRozan and LaVine, who have ignored the doubters and critics and continue to tenaciously stare down the league's best, winning twice against Durant and Harden, beating Mitchell and Gobert, Tatum, Luka.
It didn't necessarily look that way with a 9-0 Nets start and Caruso unable to go very far after giving it a try with an achy hamstring. Caruso even was defending Durant to begin and adding to his league leading steals total and making back to back threes before he had to leave after eight minutes.
Donovan said the medical staff made the decision watching Caruso having difficulty moving. There was nothing further on the severity.
The Nets had control most of that first half, especially on the boards with a 32-21 first half margin as reserve Bruce Brown had 11 in the half. Fortunately for the Bulls, he also believed he could shoot and was two of 11 for the game. He had one rebound after halftime.
The Nets led 34-28 after one and 56-52 at halftime as DeRozan had 10 second quarter points. And despite Durant and Harden getting the headlines, it was DeRozan telling the story by making the plays everyone was going home talking about.
They say Chicago can't attract the elite free agents.
Seems like they may have last summer.
DeRozan's step through drive when he split a double team and ducked under to come out with a short jump shot was the play of the half. Until LaVine, that is, darted full court and across the lane for a reverse driving layup and foul for the first Bulls lead of the game with four minutes left in the first half. The Nets spurted ahead again on a series of Durant's elegant jump shots. But Kyrie Irving remains missing, and Harden seems bewildered, less lift and murky moves, hirsute more than helpful. The Nets went ahead 54-47. But with LaVine and DeRozan playing their two-man game—who are you leaving? Not an ideal binary choice for opponents— DeRozan made a three and a jumper to close the half.
Then the Bulls talked the talk about it, fell behind 71-60 early in the third and then walked all over the Nets, Dosunmu with a fast break dunk off a Ball steal and another after a Jones block, Dosunmu with a helping block from behind on Paul Millsap and a 15-9 Bulls close to the third quarter.
"To start the game we got beat on the glass pretty handily," noted Donovan. "Our turnovers led to them getting in transition. We gave up way too many fast break points. We just weren't doing enough against a caliber of team like that. I thought in the second half we cleaned the backboard, had that spurt with some blocks and rebounds. It was one of those games where it looked like Brooklyn had control."
Until they didn't.
When the Bulls went on a 13-4 start to the fourth quarter with a Troy Brown Jr. score and Tony Bradley grabbing rebounds as Donovan also dug deep, the Bulls were ahead 92-86 with seven minutes left in the game.
Simple formula, right? Go to Durant and go home with a win?
Not if you have the guy who isn't generally considered better, but who just contuse to win.
The pugnacious DeRozan maneuvered around for a pair of 20 footers, missed one but with all the growing defensive attention enabled Dosunmu to skip in for the follow, and then beat Durant on a drive right past him for a three-point play. That was 101-96 Bulls with 4:27 left.
After Durant passed to LaMarcus Aldridge for an easy score, DeRozan added another 17-foot pullup. It seems both prosaic and remarkable, so simple yet special. Durant and Harden missed long and then Brown missed inside as DeRozan the acquiesced to LaVine for another driving reverse score and being fouled by Brown on a jumper. LaVine's two free throws gave the Bulls a 107-102 lead with 48.9 seconds left before Durant made a three. OK, he's still pretty good.
Though like Stephon Marbury once did when he was with the Nets years ago, Durant might be writing "All Alone" on his sneakers.
Then came Ball's dagger and dance, if not the name of a new restaurant, at least the name of a tasty dish of Nets stew. The favorites can stew in that awhile.
"My mind is win, just win whatever it takes," said DeRozan, 32 going on unstoppable. "My mindset shifts, not thinking about failure, not thinking about missing shots. Every day it's about being aggressive and winning. You want to be the best, you've got to beat the best. For me, it's every single night I don't care who's in front of me. I'm not going to shy away, we're not going to shy away as a team. We want to take on that challenge to go out there and compete. You have to bring it."
Especially now against these Bulls.
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