(670 The Score) In a string of close wins and close losses recently, the Bulls have usually played through star forward DeMar DeRozan in crunch time and given him the ball in last-second situations as opposed to star guard Zach LaVine, who signed a $215-million contract in the offseason.
On Wednesday evening, coach Billy Donovan explained why that is while also pushing back at the notion that LaVine isn’t involved late in games.
“I totally trust Zach,” Donovan said. “And I have no problem with Zach with the ball in his hands. I have no problem with Zach shooting the ball at the end of games at all. But I also – I think everybody here would also agree with what DeMar has done at the end games, it’s been pretty powerful. If we just went to Zach all the time, you’d be asking me, ‘You’ve got one of the greatest closers, why is DeMar not an option?’ So you’ve got to somehow incorporate both of them, and then the inbounder has got to really recognize how is the floor being guarded? What is the inbound play (defense)? Are they switching? Are they not switching?
“You have to incorporate those two guys, and we’ll try to do it the best we can.”
DeRozan has attempted most the Bulls’ last-second shots lately, particularly coming out of timeouts. On Dec. 21 in Atlanta, he badly missed a baseline jumper in the waning seconds, but guard Ayo Dosunmu controlled the rebound after a fortunate bounce and made a putback layup as time expired to lift the Bulls to a 110-108 win.
Two nights later, DeRozan hit a jumper with less than a second left to give the Bulls a 118-117 win over the Knicks. On that play, DeRozan and LaVine were both involved in the action, with LaVine slipping the screen to pop out behind the 3-point line. That helped open up space for DeRozan to get to his right before he hit the jumper.
In a 103-102 loss to the Cavaliers this past Saturday, DeRozan missed a baseline jumper in the waning seconds that would’ve given the Bulls a win. In the aftermath, the NBA ruled that the Cavaliers should’ve been called for a foul on the play, which would’ve sent DeRozan to the free-throw line to potentially tie and win the game.
On that play, DeRozan got the ball at the right elbow while LaVine came off a screen on the left side of the floor. DeRozan drove right when he thought he had space.
“I don’t think that’s a fair assessment,” Donovan said when asked about LaVine not being much involved in late-game sets. “One, just going back the last couple games, you know, the Cleveland game at home, the option was for him. He was an option on the play. He’s been an option on all the plays. I think DeMar maybe had mentioned – and I understood where DeMar was – he kind of felt like there was an opening for him in the Cleveland game at home to kind of get into a window and space. It’s not like we’re taking Zach and sticking him in the corner and just saying, ‘Hey, stand there.’ He’s been involved in all that stuff.
“We’re putting him in actions.”
Also greatly informing Donovan’s decisions is DeRozan’s history, as he hit a series of big shots late in games for the Bulls last season, when he shot 53.5% in clutch situations. Donovan also cited DeRozan’s uncanny ability to draw fouls as another reason for playing through him late.
“DeMar is very, very good in tight spaces,” Donovan said. “A lot of times when you have a limited amount of time on the clock, it presents different challenges in those situations.
“I trust both of those guys at the end of the game. I do. They’re different. To your point, DeMar does do what he does and Zach does what he does.
“I’m not in these situations going into the timeout and saying, ‘Listen, we’re throwing the ball to DeMar. DeMar, you’re shooting the ball.’ Because you can’t do that, because you don’t know how you’re going to be guarded. You want to create some movement where both of those guys are involved and then let them do what they do well.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.