DeRozan's 37 points powers Bulls to 1-0 start in Miami

So how do you like those Bulls now?

Opening on the road against last year’s Eastern Conference wins leader who swept the Bulls by an average of 15 points per game last season, playing without starters Lonzo Ball and All-Star Zach LaVine against one of the league favorites expected to contend for a championship.

But it was the Bulls with an extraordinary—yes, again—close from DeMar DeRozan, second-year guard Ayo Dosunmu outplaying veteran Kyle Lowry and center Nikola Vučević dominating All-Star Bam Adebayo in a majestic opening night on a big stage for a 116-108 Bulls win.

Maybe this show will get a longer run than expected.

“So called experts, look for another job to do or something like that,” DeRozan with 37 points, nine assists and six rebounds, and 28 points after halftime said in his postgame interview leaving the court.

“They can say what they want,” DeRozan added later at his locker with a shrug. “I learn never to get caught up in that, never going to change the way I approach the game, my passion for the game, the things I put in. Let everyone say what they want; everyone got freedom of speech, right?”

DeMar DeRozan shoots over Heat forward Max Strus In Chicago's season-opening game in Miami.

Though this one likely left the Heat speechless with a Bulls victory that was according to not only the usual Miami script, but that of the best teams. The Bulls came from an early nine-point deficit in a first quarter Miami controlled and seemed about to rewrite a familiar script from recent seasons. 

But it was the Bulls making the big shots and big plays, four game-changing threes from former Heat Goran Dragić, Nikola Vučević with 15 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks giving Adebayo the spin cycle; yeah, that man was hung out to dry. And Dosunmu with controlled aggression, recording 17 points, six rebounds, four assists and a pair of crucial steals in a game the Bulls— yes, we don’t hear that one much—were the aggressors. 

And it was the Heat who seemed to shrink under the Bulls’ glare.

“We had a hell of a learning lesson of all the mistakes we made against the good teams (last season, 2-21 against the top four from each conference) and what it really took to compete at a high level if you really want to beat the good teams,” said DeRozan. “We have that blueprint and that’s all we’ve been stressing through training camp is that’s what wins games, the IQ, the grit, getting dirty, attention to detail late in game; I think we did a great job of that tonight.

“Everybody stayed locked in,” said DeRozan. “When they hit a big shot or we made a mistake we didn’t get down on ourselves, made it up on the next play and the one after that. Last year we used to let other teams steamroll and we’d lose a lead and let mistakes affect the rest of the game. Tonight we stayed the course when they made big shots; we made big plays when we needed them.”

It was DeRozan primarily down the stretch in the fourth quarter, Miami after trailing by 15 late in the third quarter because of DeRozan’s 19-point third quarter bomb pulling within 100-95 with 7:35 when coach Billy Donovan rushed DeRozan back into the game.

Donovan admits he was hesitant after DeRozan played the entire third quarter—“he’d play 48 if you let him,” said Donovan—but this was the moment when the Bulls had faded against the league’s elite, assuming they still were that close. And now it also was without LaVine, who had to sit out the game for knee management following his summer surgery.

It was then Dosunmu made both his steals on Lowry passes, the kid making the wily veteran look like his time is well past. It especially pleased one spectator who knows defense, former Bull Joakim Noah, who was sitting about eight rows behind the Bulls bench along with his new bride.

Bulls legend Joakim Noah watched Chicago's season-opening win in Miami as a fan.

“I like the kid, Ayo,” Noah told me during a timeout. “First NBA game I’ve seen in years (in the stands as a fan). Bulls are looking good.”

Dragić, who had a dozen points, still was putting in some backcourt time and frustrating his former teammates. In addition to his deadeye shooting, Dragić repeatedly was beating Heat defenders on simple give-and-go plays and again drew a foul and made a pair of free throws. Vučević was terrific, and after spinning drop steps that seemed to make Miami dizzy, Adebayo didn’t follow him out and Vučević made a clutch three for a 107-98 lead with 4:59 left.

Still just barely enough time for Miami, but DeRozan would have none of that after a quiet first half with nine points on six shots.

“You understand the moment of the game,” said DeRozan, who the Bulls reported had the fourth-most productive opening game in team history after three put up by Michael Jordan. “Team like that is not going to lay down. They are going to try to take their run and we have to be ready for it. We’ve got to be locked in. I know what I put into this game, how much I love this game and I assure you not many guys in this league work as hard as I do.

“That’s expected from my teammates, my m.o,” said DeRozan. “Beginning of the game, I just wanted to help us get open shots, kind of walk the game down. It’s a long game, not all about coming out and trying to score, score, score right away. Feeling out the game, getting guys open shots, getting us in a great position offensively to be successful. When it comes to that time to win a game, I try to go out there and do my job to the best of my ability.”

DeMar DeRozan scored 28 of his game-high 37 points in the second-half against Miami.

No doubts about that as even with defensive wizard Jimmy Butler trying to contain him, DeRozan was patient in creating mismatches and then just making tough shots, a drive for a 109-98 lead, a three after Miami got within eight, a 20 footer fading with 1:36 left for a 10-point lead. And then Vučević with the closer when he rebounded an Alex Caruso miss for a putback score with a minute left to retain that 10-point lead. 

Miami fans are notorious for late arriving; this time it was an early exit.

“On the road, first game second season, no better opportunity to get better than against the Miami Heat because they are a very grimy organization with a lot of veterans who play at the highest level,” said Dosunmu. “We knew last year we struggled against the top teams in the East and the Miami Heat. They are very good with a very good culture. They are one of the teams going to be there fighting for a championship. For us to compete and play how we played today was a good showing. But we have to continue to get better.”

Exactly; no time to be satisfied yet. So maybe there’s a lot more there than all those guys think.

To paraphrase the early 20th century poet and playwright Gertrude Stein, for the Bulls maybe there is some there there.

Right where there is DeRozan, who continues along like he’s just 33.

Though that also was the preseason narrative which dismissed the Bulls among most NBA observers and oddsmakers. He’s old, he just can’t play like that again! Did we mention he’s old? Not really one of those great athletes, you know. Seriously, are they going to continue to fall for that shot fake?

Yes, by the way. 

Heat star Jimmy Butler found himself matched up defending DeRozan throughout the night.

“I can’t answer for someone else’s perception,” DeRozan said in addressing the doubts and doubters. “It’s just about taking care of yourself, body mental and physical. And if you have the passion for the game everything will take care of itself.”

It looked from the start it would take more than that with Miami making six of eight threes in the first quarter and leading by nine midway and 33-28 after one. Donovan started Patrick Williams at power forward, but Williams had a tough game and was replaced early by Javonte Green. Williams ended up playing most of his later shifts primarily with reserve groups. Caruso started for LaVine, but had trouble early against Tyler Herro, who faked his way easily to 11 first quarter points. But both Adebayo and Lowry, a combined one of 12 in the first half, gave the Bulls the chance to recoup in what looked earlier like it would be another Miami 20-point lead.

It was Dragić who mostly saved the blowout in the first half with the play of the game lob to Andre Drummind for a dunk and three-point play, a long three that bounced high and in. And then three tough three pointers early in the second quarter that wrestled the momentum and superiority from the Heat.

“I thought Goran’s shot making in the second quarter really settled us,” Donovan agreed. “I think they started the game seven for 10 (threes). “We lost Herro a couple of times, no question. We just couldn’t make a shot and I give our guys credit for staying with it. Once Goran made a couple of those threes, it settled us. That second unit the way they played calmed us a little because we had not shot the ball well and that group shot the ball well.”

It was then 59-59 at halftime and game on.

The Bulls jumped on Miami to start the second half, suddenly up a dozen points six minutes into the third before most of the daiquiris and mojitos were even served.

DeRozan closed his third quarter avalanche with an unlikely pullup jumper to total his 19 points and leave Miami just about buried still down 10.

Caruso, who’d been haunted by Herro earlier, had a big steal early in the fourth leading to Drummond free throws. But it was more than individual defensive plays as the Bulls out of halftime did a better job of cutting down Heat penetration and thus the kick-out threes. So Butler began ramming his way to the basket for 24 points and 14 of 16 free throws, but not with enough support.

“The loose balls, rebounds, hustle plays (12 steals), we were on the backboard,” noted Donovan. “We weren’t perfect, but I thought we competed really well. The biggest issue for us (first half) was shot discipline. Against Herro we left our feet and were vulnerable to drives and getting downhill, and then we fouled. Once we got got more disciplined, staying down and trying to contest as late as possible, we were better.”

Couldn’t have been much better than this one, tough opponent, difficult place to play, regulars out, this old guy; what, he’s still there? 

And he’s not going anywhere. Better watch out. It might just not be what they have all been thinking.

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