Dec 26, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bulls center Andre Drummond (3) grabs a rebound during the first quarter at United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
With Nikola Vucevic (adductor) out for the game, the Chicago Bulls were faced with a bit of a tough game plan ahead of their matchup with the Atlanta Hawks.
Obviously, Andre Drummond would get the majority of the minutes, but could they go small behind him? Would rookie Adama Sanogo get a chance?
Turns out, all they needed to do was ride Drummond for 39 minutes to secure the 118-113 victory.
Drummond had 24 points, 25 rebounds (including 10 offensive), three steals, two blocks on 11-of-13 shooting.
“He was awesome,” coach Billy Donovan said. “I’m really personally happy for him just because every day he comes in and works and is about the team. And a guy of his caliber and what he’s done in his career, he probably deserves more minutes. But whatever he’s given minute-wise, he’s kept himself ready to play.”
His 24 points represent the most he’s had in a game since April 17, 2021 as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. His 25 rebounds are the most since November 8, 2021 as a New York Knick. His 39 minutes played was the most since January 31, 2022 as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.
If you can’t tell, Drummond has bounced around a lot over the last few years. The Bulls are his fifth team since he left the Detroit Pistons in 2019-20. And he’s mostly been a backup since then. But he knows he is capable of starter production.
“My mentality is that I’m not a backup,” Drummond said. “I still believe I’m a starter in this league.”
He proved that in a big way against the Hawks.
Even though he’s behind Nikola Vucevic on the depth chart, he picked up his player option ahead of the season knowing he could make an impact with the Bulls. Having now played 99 games with the Bulls, it’s his longest stop in any NBA town since Detroit.
With all of that moving team-to-team, Drummond soaked in the moment after the game. He expressed his appreciation for the opportunity, expressed the work he’s put in and the preparation to take advantage of the moment. And after the game, he went straight to the stands to hug his mom.
“I went to hug my Mom,” Drummond said. “She’s my biggest supporter.”
Hard not to feel anything but happiness for a guy like that.
“Can’t take this game for granted,” Drummond said. “You never know when your last time on the court is. I just really respect the game and every opportunity I get.”
After the win, the broadcast showed a short clip of DeRozan and Donovan sharing a hug, a feel good moment that speaks to the vibes around this group over the last month.
“I appreciate him. He’s a consummate professional,” Donovan said. “The thing I love about him is he’ll do whatever he’s gotta do to help the team. In conversations with him about us having to play faster and him to get up the floor, he does what you ask him to do.”
After starting the game slow — DeRozan had just four points at halftime on 1-of-6 shooting — DeRozan took over in the second half, scoring 10 in the third and 11 in the fourth. He had the closeout bucket that effectively sealed the win with 30 seconds left. He finished with 25 points on 8-of-17 shooting.
“I just told him I appreciate all he does,” Donovan said. “He’s not only closing out the game at the end. He’s also getting everybody else involved and playing stylistically in a way that’s best for those guys. To his greatness, he can play a lot of different ways. For as long as I’ve coached, you come across guys who are really unique and special. And he’s really special as it relates to not only being an elite talent and probably a first ballot Hall of Famer, but he just wants to win. And he can see the big picture of what we need to do.”
“He’s an elite closer,” Donovan said. “And he’s been that way for his career. When the game slows down, you try to get him in areas of the floor where he does what he does. But the unselfishness and sacrifice for him for 36 minutes of trying to get off the ball, advance the ball, help us play fast, get those other guys involved, generate shots for those guys and still keep his head in the game, it speaks to his greatness.”
To Donovan’s point, DeRozan has been sensational as a distributor since LaVine went down with injury. Not just bringing the ball up the court to initiate offense, but acting as a hub through which the offense runs. He’s averaging 6.8 assists per game over that stretch, and making things easier for Coby White, Patrick Williams and Ayo Dosunmu.
But in closing moments, it’s still DeClosin’ time.
“It makes my job easier going into the fourth quarter,” DeRozan said. “Those guys look to me to close out the game. Sometimes not necessarily scoring but playmaking and trying to make the right decisions. It’s fun. There’s never a game where I feel like I gotta get up X amount of shots or whatever. I trust those guys. And I know when they give me the look, it’s time for me to do my part.”
The Bulls are now 9-8 in clutch games, but their net rating is +17.2, the seventh best in the league. They’ve probably gotten short changed in some of those moments, but they’re learning to win in those scenarios.
“Confidence,” DeRozan said. “Confidence. We failed a lot too early too, When you fail you learn a lot from it. When you have a lot of disappointment you learn a lot from it. When those moments come around, knowing how to have that sense of calm, confidence, and having that trust in one another. So it’s really just us coming together as a group.”
For Donovan, it’s got to be nice having someone like DeRozan to lean on in those moments. DeRozan has 66 points in the clutch, tied for fourth most in the league, shooting 60.6 percent in those situations.
“I never take anything for granted. I’ve had great coaches throughout my career who have allowed me and trusted me to be me,” DeRozan said. “Whatever I was asked, I try to do to the best of my ability. To have a Coach like that trust in you, it definitely feels good. You just want to give it back with the respect of the game right back to him.”
Up next: Bulls are back home against the flailing Indiana Pacers on Thursday night
Get Chicago's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!
Become a smarter Chicago sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from CHGO’s writers and podcasters!
Just drop your email below!
Scroll to next article
Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on PinterestShare on WhatsappShare on LinkedinShare on TelegramShare on Email