DeMar DeRozan, Bulls grit their way past Pacers in overtime thriller

INDIANAPOLIS — DeMar DeRozan compared crunch time to being in survival mode.

“In a fun way,” the Chicago Bulls forward said. “You embrace those moments.”

DeRozan just happens to be really good at them.

In yet another thriller, DeRozan dropped a season-high 46 points in the Bulls’ 132-129 overtime win at Indiana on Wednesday. He nailed the score-tying jumper with 0.3 seconds remaining in regulation before putting the Indiana Pacers to bed with 9 points in the extra period.

DeRozan’s intentionally missed second free throw with 3.8 seconds remaining in regulation, which ricocheted high and perfectly off the rim before being tapped out of bounds by the Pacers, was poetry in basketball form.

“I just thrive off the moments,” DeRozan said. “I’m not scared to fail. I’m not scared to try to make something happen. I want those moments more than anything.”

The win kept the Bulls from a three-game losing streak. They have a tough back-to-back at home against the LA Clippers on Thursday and only 15 contests remaining after that. With performances like Wednesday’s road win, the short-handed but stubborn Bulls are doing all they can to stay in the playoff race.

“We knew that (Monday’s 37-point loss to) Dallas wasn’t who we want to be and it wasn’t who we have been at all,” Bulls guard Ayo Dosunmu said. “We just wanted to put that game behind us, and we understand the Pacers are ahead of us in the standings.”

Here are five observations from another impressive Bulls win:

DeRozan saves the day — again

Just before taking the court for overtime, DeRozan told Jevon Carter he was about to go wild.

Again, in a good way.

“I told him I’m going to get to it right away just to make them make a decision defensively,” DeRozan said.

DeRozan scored the Bulls’ first 8 points in overtime, prompting the Pacers to send aggressive traps at him near halfcourt to force the ball out of his hands. By then, the damage was done.

“That gives us an advantage when they want to trap me,” DeRozan said. “If they want to face-guard me all the way out at halfcourt, it opens up the floor for the rest of the guys to create and be able to make something happen. It kind of makes it a lot easier on us.”

DeRozan was steady throughout, scoring 19 points on 7-for-10 shooting in the first half and 27 points on 8-of-14 shooting in the second half and overtime. He made 15 of his 17 free throws — and gets a pass for one intentional miss.

DeRozan said he broke off the play on his score-tying bucket, cutting baseline instead of using a screen to go over the top to receive the inbounds pass from Alex Caruso.

“Teams do a great job scouting, understanding what we’re going to run,” DeRozan said. “As soon as they checked the ball in, I just found an opening, honestly. I just broke off the play and found an opening and got the shot off. I always tell AC, no matter what the play is, I’m going to get open one way or another. And I broke the play off, got to a spot where they didn’t think the ball was going to go.”

This was DeRozan’s second 40-point game this season and his 12th since joining the Bulls in the 2021-22 season. His 420 fourth-quarter points rank third in the NBA, behind Giannis Antetokounmpo (453) and De’Aaron Fox (424), and his 53 overtime points rank first.

“With the way we played against Dallas, I always feel good about the way he’s going to come back and respond,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “Because he’s that competitive. And he certainly made a lot of big shots throughout the entirety of the game.”

White exits with a hip injury

Coby White exited Wednesday’s contest with 5.5 seconds remaining in regulation after colliding with Pascal Siakam on a fast break layup attempt.

Siakam successfully chased White and blocked the shot attempt but inadvertently landed on White, forcing his body to contort awkwardly. White immediately clutched at his right leg and thigh and remained on the court for a moment before being helped to the locker room. He did not return.

“It looks like his hip right now,” Donovan said. “I don’t really have any more detail other than that.”

Donovan said White was scheduled to undergo further examination upon the team’s arrival in Chicago late Wednesday night.

White was unavailable for interviews after the game but was seen chatting with teammates in the locker room and appeared to be in good spirits.

“They just don’t know the extent of it,” Donovan said. “That’s what they want to figure out is what actually is going on. Obviously, he wasn’t able to return. We’ll have to see. We’ll keep our fingers crossed it’s nothing too serious.”

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Ayo Dosunmu shoots over Pascal Siakam on Wednesday. Dosunmu scored 20 points against the Pacers. (AJ Mast / Associated Press)

Dosunmu driving and defending

Dosunmu’s effort from start to finish shouldn’t get lost in DeRozan’s brilliance.

While the Bulls scratch and claw to stay in games, Dosunmu’s grittiness has emerged. Wednesday, his defense as much as his dashing ability stood out.

Dosunmu had to contend with the Pacers’ 6-foot-8 forward Siakam. A shot would go up. Dosunmu would turn his back, crouch and box out as best he could. He did the same against the Pacers’ 6-11 center Myles Turner, while also chasing Pacers guards.

“He really competed and battled on both ends of the floor,” Donovan said. “He was guarding (Tyrese) Haliburton. He was guarding Siakam. He was guarding everybody.”

Dosunmu, of course, didn’t mind. “It’s all about toughness,” he said.

Dosunmu scored 20 points with four rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 43 minutes. He scored 9 first-quarter points to help the Bulls get off to a good start and had 14 points at halftime.

His biggest bucket, however, came with 44 seconds remaining. The Pacers trapped DeRozan, denying him the ball. DeRozan nodded at Dosunmu as if to say “Go ahead.” Dosunmu didn’t hesitate. He attacked Haliburton and scored on a drive to put the Bulls ahead by four.

“It was just me being aggressive,” Dosunmu said.

Caruso finds his shooting touch

Caruso entered Wednesday shooting 27.7 percent on an average of 4.6 3-pointers per game in 14 games since the start of February. That’s well below the 40.9 percent he had in his first 42 games — on 4.4 attempts per game.

But in the third quarter, when the Bulls needed a spark, Caruso found a rhythm, making 4-of-4 3s and scoring 14 points, while helping the Bulls outscore the Pacers 35-23.

Caruso finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.

Bulls fight until the final buzzer

After the game, DeRozan and Dosunmu used a phrase that might as well be this season’s Bulls’ battle cry.

“If it’s time left,” Dosunmu said, “we have a chance to win.”

DeRozan went with a more standard version.

“It’s not over until it’s over,” he said.

Chicago improved to 7-3 in overtime games. Portland is second in the NBA to the Bulls with eight overtime games. No other team has appeared in more than five overtime contests.

The Bulls are tied with Golden State and Atlanta for the most clutch games, 38 (a margin within 5 points), but far outpace the field with 179 clutch minutes. The Bulls own the league’s best plus-minus in clutch games at plus-2.4, winning those minutes by 90 points.

“DeMar is an incredible closer,” Donovan said. “Give him a lot of credit and respect for that. But I think the other guys are leaning into those moments.”

(Top photo: Justin Casterline / Getty Images)

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