CHICAGO -- Chicago Bulls star DeMar DeRozan scored 37 points on Thursday night, including 12 points in the fourth quarter and five points in the final minute to lead the Bulls to a 112-108 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
The Bulls trailed by three within the final minute before DeRozan took over the game. He knocked down a midrange jumper to cut the lead to one, and then after a key defensive stop by rookie Ayo Dosunmu on Hawks All-Star Trae Young, DeRozan knocked down another jumper followed by an and-1 to give the Bulls the lead with 15.1 seconds remaining.
"Too much DeRozan," Hawks coach Nate McMillan said, succinctly summing up the game's final possessions.
It's an assessment that other teams attempting to slow down DeRozan recently can relate to.
DeRozan became the seventh player in NBA history to score 35 points in eight straight games and the first since James Harden in 2019, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. He has done so while shooting better than 50% from the field in each game, extending his already-NBA-record mark.
"Smooth criminal," Bulls center Tristan Thompson, who scored 11 points with six rebounds in his team debut, said about DeRozan. "That basket is looking the size of Lake Michigan right now for him."
"It's history. We're witnessing history," Dosunmu said. "What we are witnessing right now is something people are going to remember for a long time."
With his play of late, DeRozan has seen his MVP odds shorten from 50-1 at the end of January to 16-1 as of Friday at Caesars Sportsbook. At 16-1, DeRozan's odds rank 5th behind front runners Joel Embiid (+140), Nikola Jokic (+260), Giannis Antetokounmpo (+400) and Stephen Curry (14-1). DeRozan's odds opened at 250-1 at Caesars.
DeRozan's performance on Thursday night helped the Bulls extend their winning streak to six consecutive games and move a half-game ahead of the Miami Heat for the No. 1 seed in a tightly compacted Eastern Conference.
Chicago has one of the toughest remaining schedules in the league -- their next five games are against the Grizzlies, Heat, Hawks, Bucks and Sixers -- and as teams begin jockeying for position in the standings following the All-Star break, each game is crucial for playoff positioning.
Bulls coach Billy Donovan said before Thursday's game that he prefers closing the season with tougher competition, giving a team that hasn't had playoff experience together a measuring stick before heading into the postseason.
And with DeRozan guiding the way as their closer at the end of games, the Bulls are confident they will be able to measure up to the competition.
"He wants to win, he makes the right play at all times," Dosunmu said. "One thing I like about DeMar, he knows when it's time to be selfish a little bit and we need a basket. He always delivers for us."
DeRozan finished with six points on Thursday in clutch situations -- the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with the score within five points -- and his 120 points in those situations are the second most in the NBA (Embiid, 126). DeRozan's 56% field goal percentage is tied with Anthony Davis for the best in the NBA, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
"When you're in those moments you gotta take it on," DeRozan said. "I love the moments. I love the challenge. I love opportunity. It's fun to me."