p>By Sam Smith | 2.20.2016 | 9:50 a.m.
But what if; what if Doug McDermott could play like he did Friday in the Bulls’ desperately needed 116-106 victory over the Toronto Raptors? Not that McDermott should routinely score 30 points, which was his career high, including 14 in the fourth quarter when the Raptors narrowed a 12-point fourth quarter Bulls lead to 2. Oh, oh. Not another late collapse.
No, not this time as McDermott’s impeccable shooting and Derrick Rose’s three clutch baskets in the last three minutes among his 26 points saved the Bulls, who broke a five-game losing streak and won for the first time in the United Center since Jan. 7.
Pau Gasol added 18 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists and the Bulls went to 28-26 on 51.6 percent shooting with 32 assists and just nine turnovers. It’s any team’s formula for victory.
“We really needed it, really needed it bad,” agreed Taj Gibson. “We understand we have a lot of guys out, a lot of guys playing heavy minutes, dinged up. But we are staying out there fighting. Tonight we got a good rhythm, guys came out and competed.
“The bandwagon is empty,” noted Gibson. “We have no one but ourselves. No one is going to feel sorry for us. Guys understand; it’s great to have guys in the locker room cheering you on, ‘C’mon, let’s go out there and do it.’ Whatever is going to happen we’re going to play hard. We played hard (in Cleveland); it just didn’t come out the way we wanted it to. But we made adjustments and came out and won.”
The Bulls did it with an uncommon formula of late, though most of those theorems are these days with Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotis still out and Joakim Noah gone for the season. The reserves, with Cristiano Felicio in the regular rotation and playing a career high 14 minutes for eight points, outscored the Raptors reserves 49-28. Bobby Portis had another aggressive game with eight points and eight rebounds. It also was a message of sorts from coach Fred Hoiberg, that the hustle and effort will get the playing time.
But it was McDermott’s play that proclaimed the possibilities.
Yes, it was just one game, as McDermott also was quick to point out.
“It feels like it was a long time coming (a game like this),” McDermott acknowledged “There have been a lot of ups and downs so far. I just stayed with it. Obviously, just one game, so I’m not going to get too high on myself. It’s definitely a good start for my confidence; it’s great that we were really unselfish.”
Still, it’s not easy to score 30 points in an NBA game.
Hey, Hoiberg played 10 years in the NBA and he never did it.
“Coach showing he has confidence in you means a lot as a player,” McDermott said about Hoiberg continuing to encourage him. “He can relate to me in some ways. Similar games when he was in the league, but we’ll have to check if he had a 30-point game.”
Everyone could smile and laugh for a change.
Hoiberg once had 28 points when he played for the Bulls.
But he was a second rounder on his second team; McDermott was a lottery pick the Bulls acquired for two first rounders, and the expletive “bust” was starting to be whispered, especially with McDermott’s one of six shooting and three points in 24 minutes in the Thursday national TV loss in Cleveland.
“Probably my worst game so far,” McDermott conceded. “I’m my biggest critic and am really hard on myself and sometimes that carries over to games and I can’t allow that to happen. I work my butt off every day and hopefully it starts paying off. I really had to dig deep last night; I got a good night’s rest and was ready to go.”
Hoiberg saw as much and offered a little pep talk earlier in the day Friday.
“He just sat me down for maybe 30 seconds,” McDermott said. “He told me, ‘I know what it’s like to be in your position. I’m gong to stick with you. I’m confident in you.’ It paid off.”
It did down the stretch as it looked like the Bulls were going to blow another one as they did three times on the Western Conference trip that sent them into this funk that was 14 losses in 19 games entering Friday. The trade deadline came and went with the loss of Kirk Hinrich; the Bulls fell into the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Butler and Mirotic weren’t returning soon. Yes, they really, really needed this one, and the Bulls playing their second of a back to back with the hot Raptors, now 35-18 and chasing the Cavs, just opening the post All-Star run. It didn’t look promising.
Plus, the Bulls were 2-0 over Toronto this season, the last win on Butler’s amazing 40-point second half that ended with the team crowding around Butler in joy and congratulations. But here, like the Cavs, was another top team looking for revenge.
And now the Bulls’ offense predictably slowed in the fourth quarter, players taking isolation jump shots with others watching like judges ready to score the form. And now Toronto was within 103-101 with 4:09 left on a 9-0 run.
Seen this movie before.
The Bulls had looked beaten to start, falling behind 35-24 after the first quarter, though getting within 58-52 at halftime. The offense got going as well as it has for weeks with a 20-4 third quarter run led by Rose’s driving and short bank shots and McDermott’s cutting and aggressively looking for his shot on the break. That 37-23 third quarter gave the Bulls an 89-81 lead after three. They pushed it to 99-87 after McDermott’s sky walking with about eight minutes left before what seemed like another late failure to come.
But McDermott, moving and cutting off the ball constantly in what the Bulls talk about but rarely do, came cutting down the middle from the top of the floor on what looked like it would be a broken play. Gasol, passing beautifully, bounced the ball to McDermott for a layup and 105-101 lead with 3:53 left.
The Raptors had by now downsized to three guards and perimeter shooting Patrick Patterson, and Patterson drove for a score to get back within two.
Rose has been spectacular for weeks now, averaging 23.2 points and almost six assists the last five games and playing like one of the league’s best guards. He dribbled left and then right and put in a banker fading away and high off the backboard for a 107-103 Bulls lead with 3:05 left. Kyle Lowry was fouled and made one of two free throws as Toronto’s aggressive guards kept driving and got 34 free throw attempts. That made it 107-104 Bulls with 2:56 left.
Rose then dropped a pass to Gasol at the right elbow when the Raptors came out to trap Rose. Gasol had been making his elbow jumper. So Lowry, defending McDermott, dropped off. Gasol fired a pass to McDermott in the right corner. McDermott’s quick release and soft three hit nothing but net for a 110-104 lead with 2:44 left. It would be enough, though Rose made sure with a 17 footer and a driving bank shot as he directed the plays down the stretch.
“Derrick’s been doing a great job being aggressive and then he finds other guys,” said Gibson. “He’s been on a tear lately. I hope we can keep him healthy enough so he can keep doing it, especially when Jimmy and Niko get back and we are back to our old shape and form.”
And what would that mean with a shooter like McDermott?
It’s been a difficult ride for McDermott, rarely playing last season and then reviled for his defense this season, at least in the community, and with his shooting statistics sinking. He still was above 40 percent on threes, but had been among the league’s top three earlier in the season.
And McDermott suffered from one of those little things that mostly go unnoticed publicly, but make a difference. Players like consistency and routine, which has been difficult with all the lineup and rotation changes for the Bulls with injuries and slumps. The 6-8 McDermott moves well off the ball, and he’d found a nice connection with Noah, who is a fine back door passer for cutters. But then Noah was injured, and it was McDermott who felt the pain as he ended up in lineups without the passers.
But Friday McDermott played all 12 fourth quarter minutes, many with Gasol, who is an underrated playmaker, and with Felicio, who also can pass. The latter set McDermott up for perhaps the play of the game with a two handed slam dunk early in the fourth quarter on a back door cut.
“I got off to a good start playing with Jo playing; we had a really good chemistry going and then I had to adjust to playing with different guys,” said McDermott. “Tonight I got to play a lot with Pau and Cris. Playing with big guys who can pass is good for a cutter and a shooter.”
And for the Bulls as well. Because if McDermott remains that shooting threat, not only does it further open up the court for Rose’s penetration. But it also can provide that one extra scorer the team so desperately has needed to support Rose, Gasol and Butler in his return.
“I thought Doug came out with an aggressive mindset,” said Hoiberg. “It looked like he had lost a little bit of confidence. He is such a good player, such a good shooter. I know his teammates trust him. I told him every time he shoots the ball I think it is going in, and to go out there and play his game, play with confidence. You could just tell his release was quick. He was hunting shots, great cuts slashing to the basket. I thought Pau did a terrific job of finding him on some of those cuts. We went small late and put Doug in the right corner and Pau gave him a great pass. I just told him how much I believed in him. That dunk he had on the baseline was big time. He looked like Doug McDermott from his Creighton days.”
That’s the Doug McDermott who could make a big difference for this Bulls team.