TORONTO - As Fred VanVleet stepped up to the free throw line with 52 seconds remaining in the third quarter of Wednesday's play-in game between the Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors, the home crowd went silent as the Raptors guard took a few hard dribbles and spun the ball in his hands, preparing to shoot.
For two-plus hours, the sound pierced the ears of the sold-out crowd, those watching at home and the Raptors players themselves each time one stepped up to the free throw line. The wail of 9-year-old Diar DeRozan echoing throughout Scotiabank Arena, she timed each shriek with devastating efficacy. It was perhaps the best free throw defense in history.
The Raptors subsequently shot 18-for-36 (50%) at the line, paving the way for Chicago's 109-105 comeback victory. It was their worst free throw shooting performance of the season and the most misses in an elimination game since 1969. Toronto All-Star Pascal Siakam, a career 78% free throw shooter, had a chance to tie the score with 12 seconds left after being fouled by Bulls guard Alex Caruso on a 3-point attempt, but missed two of three.
"I kept hearing something during the game during free throws," Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan said after the game. "I looked back like ... dang, that's my daughter screaming."
Diar DeRozan had actually talked her way into sitting in the stands. With the Bulls headed to Toronto, where DeRozan spent the first nine years of his career, Diar asked her father if she could skip a day of school to come along, recalling her memories of growing up and going to games here.
"My daughter called me the other day when she was getting out of school and she just said, 'Dad, can I come to the Toronto game?'" DeRozan said. "I remember her going to all the Toronto games when she was a kid and I almost said no because she's in school back home. But she kept asking. She was just adamant about coming to support and I said, 'All right, you can miss one day of school and come to a game.' I'm glad I did. I owe her some money for sure."
It's not the first time DeRozan's daughters have gone viral for their actions. During a game last season, Diar and her sister, Mari, were caught on camera mimicking DeRozan's free throw routine.
With the win Wednesday, the Bulls advanced to face the Miami Heat on Friday night in another win-or-go-home game, this time with a chance to make the playoffs and face the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. But good news for the Heat: DeMar DeRozan says his daughter won't be there.
"No," DeRozan said. "She's got to go back to school."