DeMar DeRozan’s Incredible Closing Ability Takes the Bulls From Playoff Pretenders to NBA Contenders

Chicago Bulls star DeMar DeRozan could just as easily have tired out in the fourth quarter of Sunday night’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers. He was making his first appearance since landing in health and safety protocols nearly two weeks prior. Conditioning could easily have played a role.

Instead, DeRozan picked up right where he left off.

The veteran swingman made all the right plays down the stretch to help an ailing Bulls team emerge victorious against LA. His late-game heroics are becoming standard and might be enough to make Chicago a legitimate NBA title contender, especially when Zach Lavine returns to bring the Bulls’ superstar duo back to full strength.

DeMar DeRozan scored 19 points in the fourth quarter against the Lakers

Early in Sunday’s contest, it appeared Bulls fans could be witnessing another Lonzo Ball revenge game after the former Lakers guard torched LA for 15 first-half points. However, this contest belonged to DeMar DeRozan.

After scoring 14 points in the first half, DeRozan went just 1-of-5 from the field in the third quarter. He didn’t necessarily show signs of fatigue, getting to the free-throw line early and often. Still, the four-time All-Star couldn’t seem to find a consistent rhythm.

That changed in a hurry.

DeRozan took matters into his own hands in the fourth quarter. He scored 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, consistently knocking down tough midrange jumpers at the end of the shot clock and doing everything in his power to find the bottom of the cylinder.

The most important bucket came with the Lakers leading 110-109 and under a minute to play. DeRozan had LeBron James isolated at the top of the key. He took one dribble toward the elbow and pulled up right over King James, with his jumper hitting the nylon and giving the Bulls the lead.

DeRozan finished the game with 38 points as Chicago improved to 18-10 on the season. It’s the sort of late-game excellence he has given the franchise almost on a nightly basis.

DeMar DeRozan: King of the 4th quarter

Chicago Bulls star DeMar DeRozan speaks with head coach Billy Donovan during a game against the Los Angeles Lakers
Chicago Bulls head coach Billy Donovan has a few words with DeMar DeRozan in the final seconds of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers on December 19, 2021 | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Bulls, as a team, have managed to find an extra gear at the end of games practically since the beginning of the season. But DeRozan’s individual brilliance late in games is especially noteworthy.

DeRozan leads all players, averaging 8.2 points in the fourth quarter, per The next-closest player on that list is Giannis Antetokounmpo at 7.3 points. It’s also worth noting that DeRozan is shooting nearly 54% from the field on well over five attempts in the final period. That efficiency dwarfs almost everyone, save for the Greek Freak.

It’s not just about the raw numbers. DeRozan also ranks 10th in clutch scoring (all games with a five-point differential in the last five minutes) among players with at least 10 games played. He has a 55.6% field-goal percentage in said situations.

The two-time All-NBA talent has been one of the best closers in the game this season. DeRozan’s tremendous play down the stretch serves as evidence that the Bulls belong in the title picture.

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DeRozan isn’t the only player on Chicago’s roster who thrives in the tight moments. The other half of the Bulls’ star pairing also excels in the clutch.

Zach LaVine actually averages more points in the clutch than DeRozan (3.6 to 3.4) and gets to the charity stripe nearly as often. The two players have not been selfish in hunting their offense. Instead, they’ve fed off each other all season long.

Having multiple bucket-getters becomes essential in the playoffs, when the court shrinks and defenses tighten up. DeRozan and LaVine can make plays off the dribble, whether getting all the way to the rim or creating separation for jumpers. They’re scoring efficiently down the stretch and pose different challenges for defenses.

Chicago needs to maintain its high level on the defensive end of the floor and keep forcing turnovers. An improved Nikola Vucevic would undoubtedly give the team a better overall outlook. Deadline reinforcements figure to loom large in the future makeup of the group as someone like Larry Nance Jr. could eventually be on the radar.

Still, DeRozan’s ability to close is nothing short of a vital addition to a Bulls squad that looks more and more like a real threat to win an NBA title.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.