Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan calls the late moments of games ‘‘championship rounds.’’
It’s the time in a tight game when great players and teams separate themselves from one another.
DeRozan delivered his latest knockout punch Friday. After the Pacers’ Caris LeVert missed a shot with 9.6 seconds left, DeRozan sank an improbable running three-pointer off one leg at the final horn to give the Bulls a 108-106 victory in Indianapolis.
‘‘A relief,’’ DeRozan said of the shot and his celebration after making it. ‘‘It was one of those hard-fought games, an aggressive game. Kind of reminded me of a playoff-physicality game. For that shot to go in when we were battling that entire fourth quarter, feeling like nothing was going our way on both ends . . . like we were getting beat up, [it was] a big-time relief for me.’’
It was more than that.
DeRozan’s ‘‘New Year’s Eve Heave,’’ as guard Zach LaVine called it on Twitter, gave the Bulls their sixth consecutive victory and put them in a tie atop the Eastern Conference with the Nets at 23-10.
DeRozan had been 7-for-23 from the field and 0-for-2 from three-point range before that shot. That’s why his feeling of relief afterward was appropriate. He knew he and the Bulls stole a victory after playing flat for most of the game and trailing by six with 2:17 left.
‘‘I’m a firm believer that as long as I’ve got time, I’ve got a chance,’’ said DeRozan, who led the Bulls with 28 points. ‘‘I always take that approach into a game, knowing everything is not going to be perfect.
‘‘You want to play a perfect game, but that’s just not going to happen. Sometimes there’s going to be rough nights. You’ve just got to understand that as long as there’s time on that clock, you can figure out something to pull out a victory.’’
The Pacers (14-22) have been one of the worst teams in the league in the final minutes of games, so they stayed in character.
After a free throw by Justin Holiday gave the Pacers a 104-98 lead with 2:17 left, Coby White continued his recent stellar play by making his sixth three-pointer of the game to pull the Bulls to 104-101 with 2:06 to play. LaVine then made a dunk with 1:40 left to make it a one-point game before both defenses dug in.
LeVert made two free throws to give the Pacers a 106-103 lead with 56.5 seconds left and set the stage for DeRozan’s heroics.
First DeRozan grabbed an offensive rebound of a miss by LaVine and made a 14-footer to pull the Bulls to 106-105 with 36.4 seconds left. Then he delivered the ultimate dagger with his buzzer-beating finish.
‘‘Obviously, he made an unbelievable shot,’’ acting head coach Chris Fleming said of DeRozan. ‘‘I think our guys deserve a lot of credit for somehow staying around in that game. A lot of credit to those guys to find a way to win on a night we didn’t have our best stuff.’’
Well, White did. Not only did he score 24 points, but he dived on the floor to help the Bulls secure the rebound that led to DeRozan’s winning shot.
‘‘Without Coby, we don’t win this game,’’ DeRozan said.
Even better news for the Bulls is that they should get back to full strength after their game Saturday against the Wizards in Washington. Not many teams in the league can say that right now.