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DeMar does it again! DeRozan sinks Wizards at the buzzer

That did not happen again!

DeMar DeRozan might even be inspiring poetry this time.

Dare we say;
Not even MJ.

It's been blasphemous around the Bulls to compare anyone to Michael Jordan. Everyone has run away from the talk, even Derrick Rose during his MVP run.

But Michael Jordan can't say he did what DeMar DeRozan did Saturday night in the Bulls 120-119 victory over the Washington Wizards, the Bulls seventh straight that gave them sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference.

Actually, nobody in NBA history can say they made back-to-back game winners at the buzzer on consecutive days, as DeRozan did with Friday's hopping kangaroo left foot three to shock the Indiana Pacers. And then DeRozan's pump fake fly by, set-your-feet and extend three for yet another winner just over 24 hours later, and even if it came a year later.

The last NBA player to win consecutive games at zeros was Larry Bird, who is a better comparison for DeRozan. DeRozan is not like Mike, not the high flying, explosive, dunking showman. He's like a Bird who doesn't fly, great shot, smart player, unselfish, tough, clutch, confident and ready for the moment.

DeMar DeRozan hoists up the game-winning three over Wizards guard Bradley Beal as time expires on Saturday night.

"I don't know if I'm dreaming, if it's real right now," the understated DeRozan said afterward when informed about the milestone. "Something you work your butt off and when you are in those positions, try to capitalize on them the best way you can, be willing to step up whenever that moment is called for and be ready for it; that's all you can do and when it happens it happens. I haven't even had a chance to see the play.

"It's just an honor to be trusted in the fourth quarter," said the league's best fourth quarter scorer this season. "Whether it's things that are going good, going bad, my teammates always lean on me to be that calm presence, to kind of bring us home. I always bring that calm presence as much as I can in the fourth quarter. Letting guys understand as long as we've got time we've got a chance."

It's sort of what history is about; in the moment it's just your life. But when the next generation is informed they likely won't be able to say they've seen that.

Which is why as this gift of a Bulls season moves on so spectacularly, it may be sending DeRozan into at least the history books.

Because sometimes it's just a special time like this that gets everyone to start noticing and take another look. After the game, LeBron James was commenting on Twitter, "Woooowww, D-Bo again!

Now he's a witness.

DeMar's teammates celebrate with him after he hits the walk-off game-winner for the second straight night.

It's the kind of thing that makes a player a Most Valuable Player candidate. The whole season matters, of course, but a player sometimes requires a special moment or event to enter the elite conversation. This one may have been it for DeRozan, who has had MVP credentials all season, leading a top contender in scoring, among the league leaders in scoring and a top shooter and leading clutch player in fourth quarter scoring.

And despite his outward serenity, DeRozan even apparently called his shot.

Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma, who made what seemed like the winning three for Washington with four seconds left, said to reporters after the game, "DeMar told me to hold my beer."

No celebrations yet, youngster.

The consequences were different, but the scene reminds me of the famous Jordan "Shot" in Cleveland in 1989. Of course, if Jordan misses that season is over and perhaps the team makes major changes. This was January 1, the beginning of maybe an unexpectedly Happy New Year. Back then, Craig Ehlo made a layup off an inbounds play to give the Cavaliers the lead with three second left. Later Cavs GM Wayne Embry said he walked away from the court in despair. "We couldn't give him three seconds," Embry knew.

Nor should the Wizards with this explosive Bulls team that got 35 points from Zach LaVine, 28 from DeRozan, 22 and 12 rebounds from Nikola Vucevic and 20 points from Coby White.

This had mostly been the job of LaVine, even a more spectacular shot maker. But perhaps no one was more excited and supportive afterward.

"Thank god we have DeMar DeRozan on our team," LaVine said. "Dude is incredible; can't say much more than that. The one yesterday everybody was shocked. And then the one today, battling, going back and forth (five lead changes and three ties in the last two minutes). We didn't play our best game, but we keep finding a way to win. It's a blessing to have a guy like that with composure at times of games or tough shots to where you know you've got a pretty damned good chance it's going in. I just put my hands on my head and said, ‘Man, what's wrong with you!'"

It seems a lot is right with this Bulls team, now 24-10 and on a pace for 58 wins. But especially the reaction from an All-Star and Olympic gold medal winner when someone else gets the starring, closer's role. It's the stuff everyone talks about that make teams, but human nature also makes it only too rare.

Which is why DeRozan, who was a somewhat reluctant signee this summer, is embracing this Bulls team like a second lease on his basketball life.

Can you get MVP and Most Improved?

The Washington crowd is stunned after DeMar DeRozan nails the game-winning three as the shot clock expired.

One characteristic about Jordan that contributed to his immense popularity was his absolute joy for the game. He didn't have to say it; everyone could see it. You have the sense with this team DeRozan is feeling that. Maybe reborn in a way that perhaps he never expected again.

"Being in the locker room with guys, staff, coming to work, it's just motivating and exciting to go out there and play," DeRozan said. "I get an opportunity to go out there and play with these guys; it's a dream come true in a sense. Even though I've been in the league for awhile, the refreshed feeling that you have going out there to play basketball; credit to these guys, this organization. That's just the culture we have right now.

"We have a lot of fun and everybody is competitive no matter what it's about, conversation or out on the court, practice, shooting drills," DeRozan explained. "That competitive nature that is fun for us. We carry that out on the court and it's an honor to have a team like that."

It sometimes sounds as if DeRozan is more grateful to be a Bull than the Bulls are grateful that he is a Bull.

That's the chemistry that is much more difficult to produce and sustain. There was considerable discussion when DeRozan signed about how the team would be able to coalesce on the court. That they appear to have so swiftly off the court perhaps explains more about the on the court.

"The chemistry came really, really fast and really easy," said LaVine. "We don't have any egos. Regardless of who has it going that night or who has it going in a quarter, we'll both come together and look for other guys to get them involved throughout the game and just try to figure out how to win the game. That's been the first and foremost thing that has helped the team."

The latest beneficiary—did anyone say Big Five?—has been White, the enigmatic guard who was the latest in the media and fan's cross hairs. Who is averaging 18.5 points on 51 percent three point shooting the last four games, again like in Indiana Friday making clutch shots and vital defensive plays that have supported the Big Three.

DeRozan actually was not shooting particularly well again, missing five of his first six shots and 10 of 22 overall.

He is 32, if playing 10 years younger—OK, five since 22 is too young to be this good—but this was the second of a back to back and fifth in seven days for the Bulls and third on the road. Around all sorts of Covid tests, of course.

"A lot of my shots all night were short," DeRozan admitted. "It was tough playing on a back-to-back. I kind of felt it throughout the game. I just knew on that last shot, just get my legs under me and just give it a chance."

When asked about the Bulls having a Big Three with he, LaVine and Vucevic, DeRozan routinely defaults to Big Four with Lonzo Ball, who is out of virus restrictions and could return in the United Center Monday against Orlando. Alex Caruso remains out with a foot sprain and Javonte Green had a groin injury against Indiana. Derrick Jones started for him.

But the way White has been playing, he's becoming a valuable musketeer, too, especially with a bench Saturday that totaled six points in 66 combined minutes. White presumably will rejoin the reserves when Ball returns. It also seems likely Billy Donovan will return possibly Monday from virus quarantine to replace 5-0 acting coach Chris Fleming.

"He's (White) given us different things in different games and tonight I thought some of his biggest contributions were when we started to come back he was able to get to the basket," said Fleming. "We were not able to generate any baskets at the rim for a long time, and he really got there and helped our offense, helped loosen things up. He's worn a lot of hats; he's in a good, comfortable place."

The Wizards outscored the Bulls 72-30 inside and sign of the fatigue, the Bulls had zero fast break points. But then did win the second half 68-55.

Vucevic also continued his reliable play with 12 rebounds and perhaps a game saving block from behind on a Deni Avdija layup attempt with a minute to go and the Wizards leading by one.

Once again, it was all the sporting entertainment one could ask for at the close as Vucevic had a second game-saving play with 2:07 left. Washington was leading 112-107 when DeRozan drew yet another foul on a potential three-point play. He had 10 more free throw attempts and is third in the league in attempts behind only Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden.

Which is also something we haven't seen here since Jordan. At least in a Bulls uniform. Even as great as Rose and LaVine have been as scorers, they never seemed to have the respect of the officials. DeRozan appears to have it like no Bulls player since Jordan with foul calls from his multiple pump fakes and fancy footwork that routinely have defenders distressed more than usual.

It led to Avdija, one of Washington's better defenders, fouling out. So on that last play, the Wizards had to go to rookie Corey Kispert, who flew by that first pump fake as if he'd never seen anything like that. It gave DeRozan just enough time to avert his eyes downward to assure he was behind the three-point line and then get airborne before free safety defender Bradley Beal could get to him.

"Just understanding a young guy was guarding me and my pump fake was really the gather to get my feet together so I could just get enough lift to get the ball up," DeRozan explained.

DeRozan uncharacteristically missed his third free throw of 10 on that potential three-point play with 2:07 left. But Vucevic was there against the smaller Wizards, grabbing the miss and getting fouled as he put it back in for what became a five-point play that tied the game at 112. Former Bull Daniel Gafford had 19 points and two blocks, but surprisingly didn't play much in the fourth quarter.

Beal with 27 points (Kuzma, 29) then drove and scored, but LaVine pump faked to get open for a three and the Bulls first lead at 115-114 since early in the first quarter at 11-9. LaVine had kept the Bulls in the game early with 15 points in the first quarter as the Bulls trailed 32-25 after one and 65-52 at halftime when a LaVine three at that buzzer was waved off. But threes would be the difference for the Bulls this time, making 17 of 34 to six of 27 for Washington. The Wizards might have been too far ahead to catch in the fourth if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had not missed back to back unguarded threes with eight minutes left and Washington leading by 10.

"We didn't let the blowout happen even though it felt like they were beating us by 25," said Fleming. "Our guys just hung in there."

After LaVine's three, Beal was fouled on a drive and a rare Bulls challenge proved unsuccessful as Beal made both for a 116-115 Washington lead with 1:28 left. DeRozan then missed a 15 footer that went out of bounds. Then came that Vucevic block on what seemed like a sure Avdija layup. LaVine was then stripped on a drive, but the ball went off Washington and DeRozan on the next play spun from the right baseline and was fouled, Avdija with six and DeRozan with two more for a 117-116 Bulls lead with 49.2 seconds left.

Kuzma then missed a three from on top. Vucevic missed his three from the wing when LaVine passed out of the double on his drive. And then it looked either over or time for another miracle when Beal drove and passed out to Kuzma for a long three with four seconds left and 119-117 Washington lead.

"I said we've got plenty of time, gonna get a chance to win this game," related Fleming of that last huddle. "Lock in and execute the best we can. The play we drew was something we did in practice, so they knew it."

It had two primary options, DeRozan first setting a back screen on LaVine's defender to get a release over the top toward the ball. White throwing in was looking toward DeRozan, just as Brad Sellers was waiting for Jordan to get open that afternoon in May. But Beal dropped off White as sort of a free safety defender and blocked the pass to DeRozan. So DeRozan continued into the left sideline corner with Kispert following him. Now it was for LaVine, who was waiting in the paint near the basket. He pushed off Kuzma and sprinted toward the top of the three-point circle. Now White was looking for LaVine.

But Caldwell-Pope anticipated and backtracked to cut off LaVine. White then urned his head back toward DeRozan more on the wing than in the corner. DeRozan was calling to White: The ball!

Beal stepped up to try to deflect the pass. White smartly got it to DeRozan in good position. DeRozan took one turnaround step spinning to his left, leaving Kispert behind. Beal now raced toward that corner. DeRozan stoped short and faked up, drawing Kispert to blow by. DeRozan then peered down for an instant and gathered with Beal coming. Beal jumped from barely off DeRozans right arm, but the shot was off.

"I saw two guys on me," said DeRozan. "I knew one would at least go for the pump fake. After that I just wanted to make sure I got my feet behind the line, give it a chance to go in. We said over and over everybody is just resilient, everyone has the utmost confidence throughout the game. We don't let anything rattle us, get us down. We just keep going."

Once again, DeRozan left eyes wide shut and mouths wide open for opponents and their fans as teammates gave him the no hitter treatment with a second consecutive perfecto and then the locker room water shower.

"Even with a somewhat depleted roster and waiting for guys to come back, we're a really, really good team, and a tough team for anybody to play against," said LaVine. "Each and every game I walk into I expect us to win. It's a great feeling."