'New Year's Eve Heave': Bulls star DeMar DeRozan breaks Pacers' hearts with game-winning 3

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INDIANAPOLIS – DeMar DeRozan dribbled up the court in the final seconds Friday, appeared to lose track of time and then hoisted a one-legged 3-pointer over the outstretched arms of Torrey Craig at the buzzer.

Game over.

DeRozan’s shot went in, giving the Bulls a walk-off 108-106 win against the Pacers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on New Year's Eve.

"We were just trying to get him to get the ball out of his hands," Indiana forward Domantas Sabonis said. "It's kind of crazy. I kind of (made) eye contact with him. I feel like he didn't really know how much time was left. He looked up, he saw there was not a lot left and he just shot that shot.

"It was good defense but better offense."

Bulls star DeMar DeRozan, center, walks off the court after draining a game-winning 3 against the Pacers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Dec. 31, 2021.
Bulls star DeMar DeRozan, center, walks off the court after draining a game-winning 3 against the Pacers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Dec. 31, 2021.

DeRozan's game-winning shot spoiled a valiant effort by the Pacers, who were so depleted due to COVID-19 that they signed a G-League player — Memphis Hustle guard Ahmad Caver — to a 10-day hardship contract less than an hour before the game.

Indiana coach Rick Carlisle announced in his pregame news conference that reserve swingman Kelan Martin tested positive for COVID-19, becoming the team’s fifth player currently in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. He joined starting point guard Malcolm Brogdon, rookies Chris Duarte and Isaiah Jackson, and reserve guard Jeremy Lamb.

Kelan Martin: Kelan Martin tests positive for COVID-19, becomes fifth Pacers player to enter protocols

Their absences left a big void for the rest of the team to fill, especially Caris LeVert, who answered the call with one of his best games of the season. The former Michigan star shined as the team’s substitute point guard with 27 points, six assists and six rebounds. Sabonis stepped up as well with 24 points and 14 rebounds for his 26th double-double this season, but it still wasn’t enough to withstand DeRozan's late-game heroics.

Dec 31, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan (11) shoots the game winning three pointer while Indiana Pacers forward Torrey Craig (13) defends in the second half at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 31, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan (11) shoots the game winning three pointer while Indiana Pacers forward Torrey Craig (13) defends in the second half at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

"Great players are capable of shots like that. It certainly was not what they drew up," Carlisle said. " ... He's a constant problem. He's a guy you constantly gotta kind of deal with from a game-planning standpoint and an adjustment standpoint. We got unlucky with that last shot. We played hard enough to deserve to win."

Carlisle added that his team's "level of fight throughout the game was just phenomenal," as the Pacers relied on a slew of unique lineups that hadn't been put together all season. Duane Washington Jr., who is on a two-way contract and has spent most of his time with Indiana's G-League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, started his first NBA game. Two more Mad Ants players also received playing time with Keifer Sykes appearing in his second NBA game just days after signing a two-year contract with the Pacers, and Nate Hinton taking the floor one day after signing a 10-day hardship contract.

Washington had eight points on 3-of-14 shooting, Sykes scored his first NBA basket and only points on a layup in the fourth quarter and Hinton went scoreless. However, thanks to LeVert, Sabonis and an eight-point fourth quarter from reserve swingman Oshae Brissett, Indiana flipped an 86-80 deficit to a 104-98 lead with 2:17 remaining in the game.

Chicago responded with a surge of its own, closing the game on 10-2 run, capped off by DeRozan's clutch 3. The star guard scored 13 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter to guide the Bulls to their second win over the Pacers in five days.

"It just speaks to how hard we played all night, how resilient we were despite everything that's going on with our team. COVID and injuries and things like that," LeVert said of the shorthanded Indiana's performance. "It's obviously very disappointing to lose a game like that on a shot like that, but we gotta keep our heads up and keep fighting."

The Pacers led 106-105 on their final possession when the ball was deflected out of bounds with 12.4 seconds. The Pacers retained possession but only had 0.7 seconds on the shot clock, so Justin Holiday, who inbounded the ball, threw a pass to LeVert near the rim, hoping LeVert could tip it in. But the pass was broken up by DeRozan, who delivered the dagger on the other end.

"It wasn't what the play call was, so we'll see how everyone else feels about it," Holiday said of his pass to LeVert. "But I just made the decision I felt was best with 0.7 (seconds). I just wasn't sure if we threw it to somebody to shoot a jump shot (the referees) would've gave it to us or what the case would've been. And I figured somebody going to the rim and having a good chance of tipping it in was a good idea."

DeRozan's game winner puts the Bulls (23-10) in first place in the Eastern Conference standings, while the Pacers (14-22) drop to 13th. Indiana is 1-10 in games decided by four points or less this season with the latest defeat being a result of what DeRozan's co-star Zach LaVine dubbed "The New Year's Eve Heave!!!!" on Twitter.

"By the time I looked up at the clock, I said, 'I've got to make something happen,'" DeRozan said, per The Chicago's Tribune's Julia Poe. "As soon as it left my hand, it felt good."

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Pacers vs. Bulls: DeMar DeRozan drains game-winning 3 at buzzer

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