DeMar DeRozan reminded the Toronto Raptors and their fans on Monday that he still has game.
DeRozan hit three clutch field goals and drained two foul shots in the final five minutes of play to keep his Chicago Bulls in front of the Raptors for a 111-108 victory before a sellout crowd of 19,800 at Scotiabank Arena on Monday.
The 32-year-old DeRozan finished with a game-high 26 points to keep the Bulls (4-0) the only undefeated team in the Eastern Conference.
“Just trying to do my job, especially with my experience, understanding those moments,” DeRozan said. “I understand what needs to be done.
“You know we got kind of stagnant and couldn’t score. Those guys went on a run. It’s always my job, especially late in games, to close out games, understanding what needs to be done and to getting to my spots and try to make big shots.”
DeRozan played the first nine seasons of his NBA career in Toronto before getting traded to the San Antonio Spurs in 2018. He was traded to Chicago this past off-season.
“He bailed them out because I thought we turned the water off on the other guys,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said, referring to the hot start from Bulls guard Lonzo Ball, who drilled five three-pointers for his 15 points.
“(DeRozan) came in that last run in the fourth and pretty much made all their buckets,” Nurse said. “I don’t remember any other scorers. I’m sure there were some, maybe, maybe not. I don’t know if there was or not. But he made some tough ones, and give him credit. He can do that.”
The Raptors (1-3) have yet to win at home in three starts. They trailed 61-51 at halftime and fell behind by 20 points early in the third quarter.
But a Toronto push in the fourth quarter, combined with a sloppy Chicago finish, made the game close.
After DeRozan pushed the Bulls to a 108-102 lead with just over a minute remaining, Raptors guard Fred VanVleet hit an inside shot to pull Toronto to within four.
The Raptors had the ball back with 40 seconds remaining, but VanVleet’s pass was picked off by Chicago guard Alex Caruso.
A Bulls’ miscue on an in-bounds pass led to an easy layup for Raptors rookie Scottie Barnes and a two-point deficit with 14 seconds left. But Chicago hung on with a late free throw from Nikola Vucevic and a game-ending three-point miss from VanVleet.
“Just continued to have fight, staying together, believing in one another still, and just trying to put up an effort and try to get a win,” said Gary Trent Jr, who scored 18 points. “We waited a little long to try to turn it up, but it shows the signs are there, it shows what we can do, it shows what we can do when we play together, when we believe in one another.”
VanVleet rallied late to score 15 points to go along with his career-high 17 assists. But he also committed a career-high eight of the Raptors’ 19 turnovers.
“I’ve already said this about three times tonight, but man, it’s like pinball when he drives down the lane,” Nurse said. “It’s crash, crash, crash, and I think for the amount of physicality he went through.
“I thought he was handling [the ball] pretty well as much as he was getting knocked around. Again, I’m not complaining about that. You guys have noticed, you’ve watched all the games this year. It’s very, very physical out there.”