After Chicago Bulls star DeMar DeRozan knocked down a 3-pointer at the buzzer, a one-legged heave to lead the Bulls to a 108-106 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Friday afternoon, he stood several steps behind the 3-point line and raised both arms in the air.
While his teammates charged toward him on the court to celebrate, DeRozan was feeling just one emotion: relief.
"For that shot to go in, we were battling that whole fourth quarter, feeling like nothing was going our way on both ends," DeRozan said after clinching the Bulls' sixth straight win. "We couldn't get a rebound. We couldn't get going offensively. It felt like we were getting beat up here and there. So it was a big-time relief for me."
After Coby White dove on the floor to secure a rebound on defense, DeRozan received the ball to dribble up the court with about nine seconds remaining in the game. Bulls acting head coach Chris Fleming said he considered using a timeout, but he saw DeRozan had some space to operate. DeRozan locked eyes with Zach LaVine, got a screen from Nikola Vucevic and said he considered passing the ball before he looked up and noticed only a few seconds were remaining.
"By the time I looked up at the clock, I said, 'All right, I got to make something happen,'" DeRozan said. "I just tried to get enough space, get it up, get it over and as soon as it left my hand it felt good."
It was only the second game-winning buzzer-beater of DeRozan's career, and his first since January 2013, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. No Bulls player had hit a game-winning basket at the buzzer since Jimmy Butler in December 2016.
DeRozan, who finished with 28 points, has been the league's most prolific scorer in the final period this season. He leads the NBA in total points and points per game in the fourth quarter. He has been the steadying hand for the Bulls in clutch moments this season, but hadn't had a chance to deliver a victory like this during his first season in Chicago.
Not until Friday, when DeRozan led the Bulls to victory with what LaVine tabbed the "New Year's Eve Heave" on Twitter after the game.
"I'm a firm believer in, as long as I got time I got a chance," DeRozan said. "I always take that approach into a game. Understanding everything is not going to be perfect ... sometimes it's going to be rough nights, and you got to understand, as long as there's time on that clock you can figure out something to do to pull out a victory. That's what we did tonight."
The Bulls' six-game winning streak is their longest since December 2017. Their 23-10 record matches the Brooklyn Nets for the best in the Eastern Conference, but they sit atop the standings because they own the tiebreaker.
The Bulls have managed to continue their winning streak despite enduring a teamwide COVID-19 outbreak during December. They had as many as 10 players sidelined at one point in the month, leading to the NBA's first two postponed games of the season. Currently both Lonzo Ball and head coach Billy Donovan are still sidelined in health and safety protocols, and Alex Caruso is out with a foot injury.
"We've been battling COVID protocols, with our coach, our players, for the last, it felt like two months," DeRozan said. "For the team to be able to hold on, sustain like we're doing and end the year top of our conference, it speaks volumes to the type of team we are. And the type of team we can be once we get back to full strength."