It's too bad that NBA awards ballots were due a few days ago, because a new contender for Defensive Player of the Year made herself known during the Bulls' comeback win in Wednesday night's play-in game against the Raptors. Quibble if you'd like about how much DeMar DeRozan's 9-year-old daughter Diar impacted Chicago's 109-105 victory, but you can't argue with the facts: The Raptors shot 18-for-36 from the free-throw line, and their 18 misses and 50 percent accuracy were both season-low marks. Diar peppered her dad's opponents with well-timed, piercing screams.
In a game that was close throughout the majority of the fourth quarter, free-throw shooting made the difference. The Raptors kept the Bulls at a comfortable distance for most of the game, letting them run their disgusting offense while they pounded the glass and allowed Pascal Siakam to go at the smaller Alex Caruso (Siakam wound up with 32 points, nine boards, and six assists). When Toronto's lead swelled to 19 in the third quarter, the Bulls turned to Zach LaVine and stopped pretending they were a remotely competent three-point shooting team. All that driving and rim-running made the game more physically demanding, and the Bulls finally tied it up halfway through the fourth quarter. The Raptors trailed by three with 12 seconds left when the same disaster that hit the Lakers on Tuesday also happened to the Bulls: Caruso inexplicably fouled Siakam on a three.
Unlike the Lakers, the Bulls had someone to influence those critical free throws. The biggest stars step up at the biggest moments. Diar DeRozan went 2-for-3 on FMFTs (forced missed free throws), and Chicago sealed the win.
Diar, who used her screaming to foil a home invasion three years ago, made a brief cameo in her father's postgame interview on the court, although the job's not done. The Bulls have to beat the Heat in Miami on Friday in the final East play-in for the honor of facing the top-seeded Bucks. Diar probably won't be at that game, because as DeRozan said in the postgame presser, she already used her get-out-of-school card for the game in Toronto. "You can miss one day of school and come to the game," DeMar said he told his daughter. "I'm glad I did. I owe her some money for sure."