May 21, 2024

CHICAGO — After an unparalleled players-only meeting following their first game of the season, the Chicago Bulls responded with a resilient victory in their second contest Friday night, rallying from 17 points down with under five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter to earn a 104-103 overtime win against the Toronto Raptors.

In the closing seconds of overtime, Bulls guard Alex Caruso blocked a layup attempt from Raptors forward Pascal Siakam on one end of the court and then hit the go-ahead 3-pointer on the other. He was mobbed by teammates after the buzzer sounded.

“It was a good sense of relief,” said Caruso, who finished with 13 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. “One, the game is over. We got to play again tomorrow; I was tired. Two, just excited. We have good team chemistry. With our players-only meeting the other day, it was just frustration of how we came out and played.

“Today, we showed spurts of how we want to play. Being together, playing for each other, playing hard, I think that’s how I embody myself as a basketball player and how we want to play.”

Bulls players aired their frustrations following a season-opening 20-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday, even asking coach Billy Donovan if they could have the locker room to talk among themselves afterward. Following practice Thursday, forward DeMar DeRozan guaranteed a better effort against the Raptors, and he backed his statement by rallying the team with an 18-point fourth quarter.

“It was all about how we bounced back and responded,” said DeRozan, who finished with 33 points. “I had the trust and confidence within my teammates that we would come out and compete. We had some lulls throughout the game [Friday], but we never gave in. We stuck with it and fought to the end and we gave ourselves an opportunity to win. Things like that, we have to feed off that.”

Entering Friday, teams were 5-10,570 when trailing by 17 or more points in the last five minutes of regulation since play-by-play tracking data began in 1996-97. The last team to come back from as large a deficit was the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 27, 2020, against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

According to ESPN Analytics, the Raptors had a 99.8% chance to win the game with under five minutes to go.

“I really, really appreciate just their grit and their fight,” Donovan said. “There was a lot of these emotional roller coasters and I give our guys credit; they kept their heads in the game and still tried to fight even when there was certainly bad moments in the game for stretches.”

Chicago’s unlikely comeback capped a game that featured a few wild swings.

After falling behind 16-6 to start, the Bulls went on a pair of scoring runs (20-0, 16-0) during the first half. Toronto responded with a 23-0 run between the second and third quarters, their longest run in the past 20 seasons.

The Bulls struggled to generate offense through three quarters, especially with guard Zach LaVine laboring through back tightness. LaVine, who finished 3-of-14 shooting for eight points, said he isn’t sure if he’ll be available Saturday in Detroit.

But DeRozan took control of the offense in the fourth quarter to rally the Bulls.

“Win by any means,” DeRozan said. “My mindset every fourth quarter. Don’t matter what happened the previous three quarters, fourth quarter is just go-time.”

DeRozan scored 22 points during the fourth quarter and overtime, but he also missed several chances to put the game away in regulation. A career 84% free throw shooter, he missed three score-tying or go-ahead free throws inside the final 15 seconds of the fourth quarter, the first player since 1997-98 to do so in a single game.

But Caruso kept finding ways to keep the game alive. He stole the ball from Scottie Barnes with 12.1 seconds remaining and the Bulls down three points, feeding it to DeRozan, who got fouled on a layup and had a chance to tie the score. After DeRozan missed a free throw that would have tied the score, Caruso grabbed an offensive rebound and got the ball to DeRozan for another layup attempt, which he missed.

Caruso then drew a charge from Siakam with 3.1 seconds remaining and the Bulls down one to force another turnover, with DeRozan eventually going back to the line with a chance to win it. He converted only 1 of 2, which sent the game into overtime.

Once there, Caruso produced with the final block and a 3-pointer to seal the victory.

“He bailed me out,” DeRozan said with a laugh after the game. “He bailed us out. “It’s amazing to watch. It’s kind of like letting a cheetah out of a cage, just run wild. And he makes it look pretty.”

Information from ESPN Stats & Information was used in this report.

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