DeRozan relishes being ‘the closer’ for Spurs

SAN ANTONIO — San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan popped up from the floor in front of the Dallas Mavericks bench determined he wouldn’t blow another opportunity after misfiring on what could have been the game winner at the end of regulation.

“I got a great look,” DeRozan said. “I was mad at myself that I missed. But I told myself, if I got that opportunity again, I wasn’t going to miss a big shot later in the game. I didn’t.”

DeRozan connected on 3-of-3 in overtime on Monday, hitting San Antonio’s last three field goals and snagging three rebounds to punctuate a 34-point performance in leading the Spurs past the Mavericks 113-108. The night marked DeRozan’s third outing this season in which he scored 30 points or more, but it also further solidified him as the closer the club lacked last season with former Spur Kawhi Leonard sidelined all but nine games due to a quadriceps injury.

It’s a role DeRozan relishes.

“I just come in and do my job,” he said. “My job has always been the closer.”

Rudy Gay, LaMarcus Aldridge and recently retired Manu Ginobili alternated last season in that role, but the addition of DeRozan provides San Antonio a lethal lead option for closing out contests, while providing Spurs coach Gregg Popovich more options down the stretch.

“He’s a really good player, and he loves those moments,” Popovich said of DeRozan. “He’s not afraid of failure. You know, Michael [Jordan] didn’t make every shot at the end of a game, but there are very few people who want to be in that position all the time, and he’s one of those people that loves it. Rudy was really that guy for us last year; he and LA [Aldridge]. But now we can choose between a few guys. We haven’t had that.”

DeRozan ranks second in the NBA in scoring in clutch time (21 points), hitting 8-of-18 from the floor over five games with five assists, six rebounds and no turnovers.

Lying on his back with an arm covering his face in disappointment after missing an 11-foot fadeaway from the corner to end regulation, DeRozan eventually rose back to his feet with the help of Gay. Seconds earlier, Patty Mills had told DeRozan to go out and win the game, “and I missed the shot,” he said. “I told him that I wasn’t going to miss the next one.”

Or the next two, for that matter. DeRozan pulled down three rebounds to start off his overtime tear, then hit from 19 feet out to put the Spurs ahead 107-102. His next two buckets came on a driving layup and a 20-foot step-back jumper.

DeRozan said that when he played in Toronto, former Raptors coach Dwane Casey “used to give me a cue card before every season, and it had ‘closer’ on it.”

DeRozan lived up to that against the Mavericks.

“He really steps it up in the fourth,” Spurs point guard Bryn Forbes said. “That’s something I’ve noticed so far. So defenses have to change the way they’re guarding so other guys can get wide-open shots.”

In this instance, DeRozan took three of San Antonio’s eight shots in overtime, and he drained every one of them. Gay chipped in three points in overtime, while Aldridge contributed the other two points on free throws.

DeRozan also finished the game one assist shy of his third double-double of the season.

“It’s just what he does, and I’m certainly not surprised when he makes them,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said of DeRozan. “I thought a lot of them were defended well, but he’s just a supreme athlete who simply rises over you.”

The Spurs are now 4-0 this season in games that have gone into clutch time, which ranks as the most wins in the NBA in that scenario.

“It’s fun, and you work extremely hard to be in that position,” DeRozan said. “When you work to be in that position, you’ve got to prove you can be in that position. For me, it’s what I’m most comfortable at. I’ve been in it countless times. For me, I just see one thing, and that’s getting a win.”

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