Bulls

Deng answers his own questions with huge Game 5 effort

757934.png

Deng answers his own questions with huge Game 5 effort

After Sunday's Game 4 loss in Philadelphia, Luol Deng pulled me aside and vented. Actually, it was more like him asking rhetorical questions and me hearing him out.

This isn't an uncommon occurrence in sports, where athletes see reporters--especially beat writers, like myself--on a near-daily basis during the season, relationships, both professional and personal are formed, and being that Deng is the longest-tenured Bulls player, I certainly don't think I'm the only member of the media to whom he's shared his off-the-record feelings about a game with, nor is he the only player on the team who has ever voiced his opinions to me and those feelings didn't get published.

Now, I won't share what he told me verbatim, but let's just say he was frustrated about the performance of himself and the team.

Tuesday night, the first-time All-Star rectified the situation, scoring a game-high 24 points--on 10-for-19 shooting, including 4-for-5 from three-point range--along with snatching eight rebounds and decisively winning the small-forward battle with 76ers counterpart Andre Iguodala.

But it wasn't just Deng getting off to a quick offensive start in a game where the first-half scoring was at a high school level or hitting clutch shots, like his improbable three-pointer to beat the shot clock down the stretch, it was the fact that the versatile player, who admittedly describes himself as someone who thrives within the system, went out and seized the moment.

"I came out aggressive from the start of the game. I had good looks, so I kept shooting the ball. I just had good looks with the threes. I knew the shot clock was running down, I got the ball and I had a good look at the rim, so I just let it go," he said afterwards. "I felt like I didnt shoot the ball enough. Tonight, I was more aggressive. Sometimes, having Derrick out, were just playing a little bit differently. When Derrick Rose is in the game, Im less aggressive and tonight, I really wanted to be aggressive from the start. I took more shots than I did the last couple games."

Deng didn't necessarily play out of character, but without Rose and Joakim Noah in the lineup, he acknowledged that he had to make the adjustment to shouldering more of the offensive load, in addition to playing his usual all-around game.

"Great energy, all-around game, got some easy buckets early, good defense, rebounding," praised Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. "Theyre a very good defensive team, so sometimes youve got to give their defense credit and if youre being defended well, your responsibility is to help move the ball, help get your teammate open, screen, cut, keep the ball moving, keep your body moving, run the floor, play great defense. He has to do all those things."

Added teammate Carlos Boozer, who also stepped up with a huge second half, though he's picked his offensive pace quite a bit in the absence of Rose and Noah: "Its awesome. He played great tonight, hit so many big shots. One play, the shot clock was running downthree, two, oneand it looked like he shot the ball from the third row. Just a phenomenal game. He played great."

Deng's matchup with Iguodala is a complicated affair, as both are dinged up--Deng with the torn ligament in his left wrist that he's dealt with most of the season, Iguodala with an Achilles' injury--and are expected to be defensive stoppers, as well as go-to players on the offensive end. However, without Rose's brilliance, as well as Noah's underrated playmaking, Deng is arguably saddled with more of a burden now.

"Weve matched up with each other ever since our rookie yearwe came in togetherso its a lot of fun," Iguodala recently observed. "Going into every game, I get pretty ticked when he scores and Im sure its the same way for him when I score, so thats going to be a key matchup, but at the same time, when they do pick-and-rolls, their bigs do a great job of trying to get the ball out of my hands and when he comes off pin downs, slashing, my bigs help me out when I get hit by a pick, so its kind of like a chess match."

On this particular evening, Deng was Bobby Fischer--no relation to Gail of CSN Chicago fame, at least I don't think so--and fell back into the mode at which he's best, jump-starting the Bulls early, blending in and taking care of his non-scoring duties, then picking up the offensive slack when necessary late.

What made this different, however, was that his effort came when the Bulls were on the brink of elimination, he had no reigning league MVP to deflect attention and instead of waiting for opportunities to present themselves, he went out and took them, answering his own question of how he can change the team's fate and making the role of myself or any other reporter as a sounding board moot for the time being.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls dance with Warriors

11-24_gsw_matchup_nba_chi_blank.jpg

Three Things to Watch: Bulls dance with Warriors

Is there any better way to break in your new Black Friday television than Bulls-Warriors tonight? We think not. Coverage starts at 9 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live, and the game is also available to stream via the NBC Sports app

Here are three things to keep your eye on: 

1. Not the score. Let's be honest: the Bulls probably won't sneak out a win at the Oracle. In fact, ESPN's matchup predictor only gives Fred Hoiberg's young squad a 2.9 percent chance to come up victorious. UIC has three times better odds against juggernaut Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Sunday, in case you needed some context.  

With the talent gap in mind, though, it will be important for the Bulls to come out with high energy. The Warriors will likely take the contest lightly in the first half, so starting off strong reflects well on the coaching staff and starters. Stay within 10 points by the half, and that's considered a massive triumph. 

2. Lauri Markkanen vs. Draymond Green? Assuming the Dubs start out with Green on Markkanen, this will be rookie's biggest test of the season. Green is an elite defender, capable of wrecking gameplans from the tip. He's physical, quick and athletic. 

Markkanen is coming off two duds on the West Coast trip, but his aggressiveness hasn't wavered. It'll be important for him to continue to attack even with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year hounding him. 

3. Steph, KD and Klay doin' work. The Bulls offense hasn't exactly been a thing of beauty through the first 16 games. Their offensive rating is a brutal 94.4, ranked last in the NBA. Golden State, on the other hand, sits at the top with a rating of 113.1. 

Take some time to admire the skills of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson because when it comes to working cohesively on offense, they've set the gold standard. 

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

On the second (turkey) leg of a back-to-back, the Bulls didn't bring much energy in a 110-80 loss to the Utah Jazz. 

Instead of diving into the nitty-gritty of the uninspiring effort, though, we decided to just serve you up a Thanksgiving meal of highlights. Here are the top blocks from Wednesday's game: 

5. Derrick Favors is no Rudy Gobert -- that we know -- but imitation is the highest form of flattery. 

4. Are Bobby Portis chase down blocks the new LeBron James chase down blocks? Let's not get carried away... yet. We'll chalk it up to just a real nice hustle play by Bobby. 

3 and 2. Speaking of hustle plays... Jonas Jerebko isn't exactly known as a dominant defender. He sure made it hard for the Bulls on what should of been an easy fast-break bucket in the third quarter, though. First, he silenced Kris Dunn's reverse. Then, he met Lauri Markkanen at the rim and sent the rookie packing. The Baby Bulls 2.0 can blame it on fatigue, but they just handed Jerebko a highlight tape for years to come.   

1. In fairness, Jerian Grant had to get up a shot as the quarter was coming to a close. It is as vicious as it looks, though.