Without Derrick Rose, the Bulls barely had a chance coming into Wednesdays game against the rival Heat, going by logic, at least. And if they were going to pull off the victory, someone with a higher stature than diminutive reserve point guard John Lucas III would have to be the savior, right?
Wrong on all counts. Lucas poured in 24 pointsshooting 9-for-12 from the field, much more efficient numbers than in his 25-point game in an early-season win over the Wizardsand faced off with none other than LeBron James in the games waning moments to lead the Bulls over visiting Miami.
I was out there playing, said Lucas, who was guarded one-on-one by James at the end of the game, scoring over a player nearly a foot taller than himgetting a semblance of revenge for the vicious dunk James threw down over him, literally, in the seasons first matchupand one who flummoxed reigning league MVP Rose at the end of last season. I wanted to win, like the rest of the team. We all wanted to win, so we were going to do whatever to take the W tonight.
We just wanted to come in with a lot of energy. Its a big game for us. Its a big win for us and we were ready. We were very prepared. Coach had us prepared from Day 1. We had a great shootaround. Everybody was focused, everybody was tuned in, he continued. I was focused from the jump. As soon as that ball went up in the air on the jump ball, I was tuned into the game and Derrick had a little talk with me before the game, and told me, Its time to step up, and I told him Ive got him.
Afterward, Lucaswho, ironically, was cut by the Heat earlier in his careeracknowledged that it may have been his best game as an NBA player.
I would say so because I was under control, I played with a lot of energy, I was picking up full-court and I had a determination that I wanted this victory really bad, so even if I had to hold LeBron or whoever, I was going to do whatever it takes to win this game, he said.
I was in training camp with them, so they know my game and they know how I play, but the first gameI went back and watched filmI saw they were trapping me because they know I come off the pick-and-roll hard and Im looking to score, so it opened up a lot for me. I read the game so much differently because I studied the game. I watched film and I talked to my father before the game, and he gave me some stuff to do while I was on the court that helped out a lot.
Its a business. I had a great training camp with them. Spo came in and said to me they needed a veteran, and brought Carlos Arroyo in and I just took it on the chin, he added. I never got cut in my life before I was in the NBA, but its part of the game. Youve just got to always stay with it, always stay positive.
Lucas, despite being nearly a foot shorter than James, wasnt intimidated by the superstars presence when guarded by him late in the game.
My father always tells me, If you can see the rim and your shoulders are square, you always have a shot. You always have a good chance of making the shot, and I always work on off-balance shots because of my size. Im always going to have somebody taller than me guarding me, so Im going to have to get it over them, he explained.
I was just saying, Im not going to back off. Im going to stay aggressive and play my game, and obviously I read stuff differently because if he was on me, that means a smaller guy was one of our bigger guysone of our bigger guardsso I was just reading the game as it came to me.
From teammates to coaches, everyone in the Bulls locker room was beaming with pride about the way Lucas played on the big stage Wednesday.
John can score, man. When he was in there, we realized it early in the game and Coach ran some good sets for him and he made some big shots for us, said Luol Deng. You see the kind of game hes having. They really had a hard time stopping him and he hit some big shots.
We love him, man. Hes older than us, but just a great guy. We all love him and we want to see him do well, he continued. Hes always on the bench, cheering everyone on and working hard, and when its his turn, weve got to make sure we let him know we appreciate him.
Added Joakim Noah: Lukey? Im proud of Lukey. Thats my son, so Im proud of my son.
He really came out with a lot of energy and I just liked his style out there. He was tough, from the start and it got us all going. It wasnt just his scoring. His swag out there, it was mean. I liked it.
Chimed in C.J. Watson: Thats how he plays all the time. Hes instant offense as he everyone sees and hes not shy about it. Thats what we expect from him and thats what he goes out there and does every night.
Even Tom Thibodeau, who once coached under Lucas father, echoed his players sentiments: I think you guys have been around him to know how hard he works and how he prepares himself, and every time hes called upon, hes ready to go, as are all our bench guys.
For Lucas himself, the game he had individually was more of a reflection of the teams mentality, as well as his own work ethic.
Weve got heart and weve got our captains back. He went down and we said, Weve got it. Everybodys here for a reason and like Thibs says, Its not an accident that youre on this team. Youre a professional and youre going to have to step up, he said.
You just have guys who flat-out work hard, come to practice every day and when their numbers called, step up. And when you have guys, one through 14, that do that and know their rolenobodys stepping outside their role, theyre all playing their gameand everybody gets along. Were like a family, were like a brotherhood. So, when one brother goes down, you have their back.
This is one of 82. Thibs came in and said, This games over with. Lets get ready for Portland, he continued. By far, this is the best team Ive played for in my professional career.
It means a lot, but at the end of the day, were not expecting to lose. It doesnt matter if Derricks not playing, Carlos is not playing, Lu. We come in every day with the mentality of its a game and were professional athletes, and we have to come out there and compete. This is out job. Theres no lying down. You come out there and you leave everything out there on the court, the son of former NBA No. 1 overall draft pick, longtime player and coach went on to say.
Im constantly in the gym shooting. My shot really feels good right now. Coach Brunson and Jim, were constantly in the gym, getting shots up, every day. Even on days off, I go in there and get shots up because I feel like if you get more repetitions up, when youre in the game and you get the chance to shoot, its just like practice. Youve just got to knock them down.
Still, he did find some humor in the fact that the ex-journeyman is now a player opposing teams have to prepare for.
Its funny because I see Im on the scouting report now, he quipped. Its time to switch it up and pull another bag of tricks out.