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Ayo Dosunmu bounces back to play hero, sink game-winner

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ATLANTA — Ayo Dosunmu played a season-low five minutes in Tuesday’s road victory in Miami, moving from a starter to odd man out of a crowded guard rotation.

Dosunmu didn’t pout. He persevered.

Dosunmu’s putback of DeMar DeRozan’s long baseline jumper narrowly beat the buzzer Wednesday night, needing official review to validate the Chicago Bulls’ 110-108 victory over the Atlanta Hawks. Dosunmu was mobbed by teammates in a celebratory pile on the court and then received a water bottle shower before walking off with a smiling, beaming DeRozan draping his arm around him as they headed to a jubilant locker room.

“I always say I don’t know how Ayo gets so many offensive rebounds. Every game, you watch him, he gets an offensive rebound, a layup or a kickout,” Zach LaVine said. “For him to inbound the ball and get down to the dunker spot, I don’t know how he did it. Right place, right time. He’s a winning player. I was happy for him. He sacrificed a lot for us. And it was a big-time win.”

Indeed. Not only did it come just 10 days after the Hawks’ AJ Griffin gave the Bulls the same treatment with a buzzer-beating game-winner in overtime off a nifty inbounds play and lob, but it nudged a modest win streak to two games.

Typically, a two-game win streak may not even constitute a streak. But given that the Bulls have authored eight straight quarters of engaged, physical, defensive-minded basketball following a debacle on Sunday in Minnesota in which they allowed 150 points and players engaged in strong, pointed, confrontational conversation, it’s something.

“How our season has been going so far, a lot of games like that this year went the other way,” Dosunmu said. “For us to pull through that game when we were down eight points in the fourth and we stayed together, this shows our growth and how we continue to get better. Especially because we had a lot of guys injured.”

The Bulls ruled Goran Dragić out before the game with left ankle soreness. They then lost defensive linchpin Alex Caruso to a concussion in the first half.

“It’s all about your approach. You have to be mentally strong in this league. I pride myself on being that, on being a great teammate,” Dosunmu said. “[Tuesday] night, I didn’t play the minutes I ideally want to being a competitor. But I can’t take that out on my teammates. I continue to cheer for them, continue to tell them what I saw. And then I knew that whenever my time did come, I’d be ready for it. That’s just my mentality.”

Trae Young scored 29 points in the first half but only finished with 34, shooting 2-for-10 after halftime. Dosunmu has engaged in several physical, memorable battles against the All-Star guard already in Dosunmu’s young career.

“He knows every time we compete it’s a battle. I try to make it hard for him,” Dosunmu said. “He’s a competitor, one of the elite guards in the league. My mindset was to compete and try to slow him down.”

Teammates expressed genuine happiness for Dosunmu, who already has earned a reputation as one of the hardest-working and most inquisitive players on the Bulls. He’s a player who can accept hard coaching.

On the winning play, DeRozan said he knew his shot was on line and thought it was going in but then saw it go long. Dosunmu said he focused first on not committing a turnover on the inbounds pass and then just sprinted to be around the rim “just in case.”

Just in case, indeed.

“It’s everything. It’s big, man,” DeRozan said. “Just to go through moments like that, us being teammates, we’re together more than our own family at times. When moments like that happen, you want to embrace it. It’s fun.”

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