DeRozan, Donovan explain failed final play vs. Cavaliers


It was almost a storybook finish.

One year to the day after sinking the Pacers with a one-legged 3-point heave at the fourth-quarter buzzer, DeMar DeRozan had the chance to make magic again with the Chicago Bulls trailing the Cleveland Cavaliers 103-102 and 5.8 seconds left in the fourth quarter. In fact, DeRozan's primary defender on the eventual final play was Caris LeVert, who played for Indiana on Dec. 31, 2021.

But no such drama was in the cards for the Bulls on Saturday night. DeRozan caught an inbounds pass from Alex Caruso on the top of the key, then turned right for a drive on LeVert and rose — fittingly — for a one-legged floater. It caught back iron.

Head coach Billy Donovan flatly responded "no" when asked if that shot was what he envisioned coming out of the Bulls' prior timeout.

"I thought DeMar got caught up a little bit too high, that was part of the play. And then I think the way that our spacing ended up being, it certainly made it difficult at that point in time," Donovan said. "He needed to obviously try to find a shot. It wasn't like he got off a terrible one, but obviously a tough one."

DeRozan, meanwhile, felt good about the look itself, noting that he elevated over the top of Cleveland's defenders and got a clean shot on the rim.

The disconnect stemmed from a read DeRozan made after catching the ball. According to DeRozan, the play was intended to be a post-up at the elbow (with LaVine simultaneously running off a pindown at the top of the key). But when DeRozan saw Donovan Mitchell shading towards the middle, he, in his words, "broke off the play" to attempt to dart into the empty space beyond LeVert.

"I seen Donovan sitting back, so I just tried to break it off and go to the little gap where he wasn't at," he said.

That is where the spacing Donovan mentioned comes into play. Notice Caruso and Vučević stationed near the lane, while Dosunmu drifts inside the 3-point arc to their right. That jam-packed alignment allowed Mitchell to help off Caruso and force DeRozan out of his rhythm on the eventual pull-up — and although LaVine appears open, it would have been a difficult pass to complete given DeRozan's momentum and the time remaining.

Making the loss all the more unfortunate, it splashed cold water on a hot stretch in which the Bulls had won five of six games, marked a missed opportunity against a quality opponent (even with Darius Garland and Evan Mobley sidelined), and wasted some stellar defense down the stretch.

For the game, the Bulls nabbed a season-high 14 steals, led by five by Dosunmu. And they held the Cavaliers to just two points in the final 4:56, forcing four live-ball turnovers and a shot-clock violation that gave them a chance to win with five seconds left. Caruso's presence on Mitchell and Dosunmu's on double-teams were particularly impactful.

"We gave ourselves a chance, we fought hard," DeRozan said. "Last couple minutes, we busted our butts defensively. Gave ourselves a chance. If it (the last shot) go in, it go in — it'd be a different story. But I'm proud of the guys, how we fought, we stayed with it."

The Bulls next play in a rematch with this Cavaliers team, which is 2-0 in the Central Division rivalry this season, in Cleveland on Monday. A chance for redemption.

"Those last couple minutes," DeRozan said when asked what the Bulls can carry forward into that game. "I'm happy with how we competed those last few minutes. We played hard, we played tough. We was locked in, we was focused, we understood what we needed to do, how we needed to do it. And we was locked in together.

"Take more of that to the next game, going on the road, understanding we just lost. Only way to get 'em back is to bring that same type of intensity."

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