Even with 46 points from vet DeMar DeRozan, Bulls fall short in Boston

DeRozan tried to single-handedly will his team to victory, but bench issues and failing to do the little things late were too much to overcome against the Celtics.

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DeMar DeRozan

BOSTON – DeMar DeRozan did his part.

All the ageless veteran tried to accomplish on Friday was throwing his entire team on his back and will them to a win against the Celtics.

Whether it was the season-high 46 points for DeRozan, the 22 free throw attempts, or the five assists, he was hell-bent on leading the Bulls (5-5) to a third-straight win. If only his teammates were more accommodating in the 123-119 loss.

Too many missed opportunities on key rebounds to go along with 17 turnovers, and just like that what could have been a signature win of the season ended up being another loss for a .500 team.

“He was just spectacular,’’ coach Billy Donovan said of DeRozan. “He has a refuse-to-die attitude. His scoring kept us close and gave us a chance late. He was incredible.’’

There wasn’t much argument there.

“If we’re having a great game from DeMar, we’re going to play off him,’’ Zach LaVine said. “ ‘Debo’ was rolling.’’

Early on, DeRozan wasn’t alone.

Considering the difficulty most visiting teams have in the Garden, the Bulls couldn’t have asked for a better first quarter.

The offense kept the ball moving, and the defense kept the Celtics on lockdown. So when DeRozan hit a free throw with 3:14 left in that opening stanza, the lead was eight and the mood was energetic.

Then it wasn’t, and thank the bench for that.

The grouping of Alex Caruso, Derrick Jones Jr., and Goran Dragic, along with LaVine, has usually been lights out this season, but with Andre Drummond (shoulder sprain) sidelined yet again, that was obviously a very important piece.

How important?

By halftime, Boston had grabbed back the lead and the Celtics bench had outscored the Bulls 21-5.

Neither team would budge much in the third, playing each other to a 30-30 tie, but the concern was LaVine, who only took one shot in that entire quarter and played just over six minutes.

“Just running the offense,’’ LaVine said of that third. “If the ball finds me it finds me.’’

LaVine also admitted after that while the left knee is good enough for him to play, the explosion is still a work in progress. That’s why he was seemingly trying to draw fouls on the ground rather than the air.

“Trying to get the rhythm back,’’ LaVine said. “Obviously I’m not all the way back yet. Not going to lie. It’s coming. I’m not scared of that.’’

LaVine also brought up the idea of changing his game a bit from his younger days, thinking long-term preservation rather than putting the opposition on a poster.

Even with all the back and forth, there were the Bulls in the final few minutes, hanging around.

With 1:24 left, DeRozan was at it again, as his two free throws cut it to a two-point game. Derrick White had an answer, however, and a loud one, nailing the three with 1:07 left to keep that five-point buffer for the home team.

But the Bulls weren’t going away, courtesy of Nikola Vucevic and the three-pointer he hit just six seconds later.

Then it became a street fight.

Jayson Tatum fought Patrick Williams for a rebound and earned a trip to the free throw line, and then after Williams took an unnecessary three-pointer with 22.9 seconds left and missed, Tatum went to the free throw line again, hitting both to stretch the lead back out to five with 19.5 seconds left.

The free throw contest continued for both teams, with DeRozan hitting on free throw 19 and 20, and Malcolm Brogdon returning the favor for Boston (5-3).

After an Ayo Dosunmu layup, Brogdon iced the game with 1.9 seconds, splitting a pair.

“Self-inflicted mistakes,’’ DeRozan said after. “The game came down to that.’’

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