What a way to end the 2021 calendar year for the Chicago Bulls. In a game where the Bulls struggled in multiple areas, DeMar DeRozan hit a game-winning three-point shot as time expired to defeat the Indiana Pacers 108-106 on Friday afternoon.
"I looked up and did not realize how little time there was left on the clock," said DeRozan, who was then forced to shoot a 30-footer off one foot.
The fact a shot with such a level of difficulty still found a way to go in highlights just how well things are going for DeRozan, who leads the Bulls in scoring and is certainly in the conversation for MVP.
Even though the Bulls won, they did struggle in certain areas. The Pacers' defense was intense, giving a feel similar to many of the battles between the two teams in the 1990s. Indiana's offensive rebounding was a constant threat as well (17 offensive rebounds).
Zach Lavine fell short of expectations too. He scored 17 points on just 7-17 shooting. And even though DeRozan led the Bulls in scoring, he shot just 33% from the field (8-24).
Coby White played a key role as he continues to improve this season. The third-year guard scored 24 points on 6-7 shooting from beyond the arc. Nikola Vucevic secured another double-double (16 points, 14 rebounds).
Even Throughout the First Half
Both teams started off slow. The Bulls shot just 36% in the first quarter including a poor 1-5 mark from behind the three-point line. The Pacers shot just 35% from the field.
But both teams improved offensively throughout the first half with neither side able to separate themselves. DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, and Coby White all achieved double-figures in the first half.
Caris LeVert and Domantas Sabonis led the way for Indiana, adding 15 and 14 points in the first half, respectively. The Bulls entered halftime with a four-point lead after a first half that had 10 lead changes.
A Playoff Atmosphere
Both teams continued to trade jabs throughout the second half, providing a playoff feel to a game in December. The Bulls led for most of the second half but could not extend their lead beyond seven points.
LeVert continued to play well, leading the Pacers with 27 points. A lot of those points came off a successful pick-and-roll combination with Sabonis, who finished with 24 points of his own. Former Bull Justin Holiday added 16 points on 5-9 shooting from three.
The Pacers also dominated the Bulls on the boards. Indiana's 17 offensive rebounds led to a 58-30 points in the paint advantage for Indiana along with 25 second-chance points. All of those rebounds were key to the Pacers going on a 9-0 run midway through the fourth quarter.
The run eventually allowed the Pacers to grab the lead for the first time in the second half after Sabonis hit a turnaround jumper with 5:44 remaining.
The Pacers extended their lead to as many as six points before Coby White hit his sixth and biggest three-pointer of the game, cutting the Indiana lead to three points with just over one minute remaining.
But it was DeRozan who cemented his "King of the Fourth" moniker with two key shots in the final minute of play.
DeRozan cut the lead to one point on a tough fadeaway shot with 36 seconds left. The Pacers retained the ball after an incorrect out-of-bounds call that should have given the ball to Chicago.
Instead, the Bulls forced the Pacers into a tough shot, which was missed and rebounded by White, who gave the ball to DeRozan. The rest, as they say, is history as the Bulls extended their winning streak to six games.
What’s On Tap Next?
The Bulls will look to extend their winning streak to seven games as they kick off the new year against the Washington Wizards (18-17) in a battle of playoff hopefuls. It will be the first of two January meetings between the two teams. The New Year's Day matchup will tip off at 6 PM CST and the game will air on NBC Sports Chicago.
Be sure to check out the Bulls On Tap podcast for further postgame reaction as well as Chicago basketball analysis and commentary all season.