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Bulls have Deng good time in beating Blazers
by Sam Smith
Posted on Nov 2
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It wasn’t a great start to the season for Luol Deng, though his defensive play on Kevin Durant and Ben Gordon was good. But the numbers, the expected offensive support for Derrick Rose, especially in the absence of Carlos Boozer, were not there.
Deng was averaging just 11 points and two rebounds, shooting 30.4 percent after a promising preseason which seemed a harbinger of better things to come.
But when Deng looked at his text message Sunday, he had to smile. It was from Rose.
“I let him know we’ve got his back,” said Rose, who was averaging 33.5 points to enable to Bulls to at least split the first two games. “He’s one of the leaders of our team. I said, ‘We don’t care if you miss shots. As long as you play defense and hustle, we’re going to be a good team.’”
Deng continued to play defense and hustle, and he hardly missed any shots Monday as Deng set a career high with 40 points on 14 of 19 shooting in the Bulls’ relatively one sided 110-98 victory over the previously undefeated Portland Trail Blazers.
Supporting a terrific help oriented, aggressive defense that kept Portland mostly on the outside shooting jumpers, the Bulls shot 60.6 percent for the game and led by double figures for all but three minutes after the first 10 minutes of the game.
They got their offense in gear with a 27-10 edge in fast break points, and perhaps more importantly with Rose’s message, they also showed continuing signs of a team becoming more than just a group of players.
“I really felt like I had good looks the first two games,” said Deng, sitting in his locker stall after the game and resting his feet in his now familiar companion ice bucket. “I just felt I was missing shots. Against Detroit, I had layups in transition early I missed and I wasn’t happy about that. But I stuck with my same routine, shooting with (assistant Adrian) Griff(in), coming back later (Sunday) and getting more shots up. Griff was just saying to stay with the same game, my same thing.
“In the first quarter I made a couple of shots,” said Deng. “It felt good coming off my hand, and after that I stayed with the jump shot and I got some open shots.”
That was also thanks to Rose, who not only texts messages to Deng but delivered several sharp passes, including a bullet into the right corner with 5:48 left for a three and Deng’s 39th point to pass his career high, coincidently previously against Portland with 38 in 2007.
That three led Portland coach Nate McMillan to raise the white flag with 5:36 left and trailing 101-84 and remove his starters. The reserves made a brief run to get within 101-92 with four minutes left before Deng drove and was fouled.
He made one of two as teammates from the bench joked he wouldn’t get to 40.
“Then I missed my first one,” Deng said with a laugh.
But he made the second and after Dante Cunningham missed a three, Rose found Tag Gibson inside and with the defense closing Gibson hit Kyle Korver for a three and 105-92 lead to effectively wrap up the victory to go to 2-1.
“I thought Derrick’s decisions were great,” said Deng. “They were double teaming him (and trapping), but Derrick is so strong he can pass out of the double, and not a lob but a hard pass and the defense doesn’t have time to adjust.”
Rose, who was averaging 33.5 points per game to lead the league, had 16 and a career high equaling 13 assists, though the defensive trapping did cause six turnovers.
But the offense flowed smoothly with 11 players scoring, Korver getting 11 and Gibson 12. Joakim Noah had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“I played with a lot of players who scored 40 and they shot a lot of shots, shot free throws,” said Korver. “There was a different feel to this, slashing to the basket, getting out on the break. He got 40 points, but it wasn’t any iso’s. It wasn’t like we were standing around watching. If I were guessing, I’d say Lu had 24, 25. It didn’t feel like the ball was going to him. When you can score 40 points and you’re not even the first option, that’s a pretty good deal.
“Lu gets 40, Derrick 39 the same way,” noted Korver. “We’ve got guys who can score 40 points in a night and we didn’t even have Booz (Carlos Boozer) yet. That says a lot about our team.”
It’s also crucial, at least offensively, for Deng to play that way, if not being expected to score quite like that. Rose is going to be the leading scorer, and when Boozer returns after Thanksgiving (he’s getting his cast off 6 a.m. Tuesday), there’ll be more screen and roll, which the Bulls haven’t been using much.
But even with Boozer, Deng is something of the key, as Portland’s Marcus Camby noted.
“It seemed like he and LaMarcus (Aldridge with 33) were just going back and forth all night,” said Camby. “We just let him get free for easy pull up jumpers, wide-open threes or drives. He is sometimes the forgotten player but now you can see what he can do. He is probably the X-factor on their team to get them to go where they want.”
Though the constant Monday and the big thing along with Deng’s 16 point first quarter was an aggressive defense, the likes of which the Bulls haven’t played in several years.
Coach Tom Thibodeau, not unlike many defensive oriented NBA coaches, practices a so called “no middle” defense, where the lane is protected at all costs.
It’s obviously preferable to force shooters outside, and the Trail Blazers complied, shooting 36.6 percent in the first half as the Bulls led by 17 in the second quarter, saw the lead fall to nine at halftime and then back to 17 seven minutes into the third.
Aldridge was terrific in getting deep position against the smaller Gibson at first or spinning by Noah with nice post moves that led to a few lobs for scores or short jumpers.
With 22 in the first half to Deng’s 20 it was something of a curious shootout to watch.
But the Bulls defense, I thought, looked very good. Portland did get 41 free throws in a way too tightly—and seemingly unnecessarily so–officiated game. But Portland shot 41.3 percent and was zero for 14 on threes with Rudy Fernandez, a rumored Bulls trade target at times for shooting guard, zero for six on threes and three of 10 overall for six points. He is better than that.
Brandon Roy was four of 12 and mostly ineffective and Nicolas Batum, Portland’s latest prize youngster, was one of five and benched.
Gibson again had foul trouble trying to contain Aldridge and Thibodeau has taken to using rookie Omer Asik as a replacement. And Asik again played well with Noah in getting seven rebounds and a game high three blocks before fouling out.
Asik is perhaps the team’s most pleasant surprise, clearly moving into the backup big man spot and giving the Bulls excellent defensive size up front in that rotation.
“Portland is a quality team,” noted Thibodeau. “We did a lot of good things to get the win, like what Omer did when he was in there. When he was in with Joakim, his height was a factor and they shut down the paint. They made it more difficult to score.”
Though I thought the most impressive aspect of the defense was the way Thobodeau has the players rotating to help on shooters and then getting back. It takes a lot of effort to play that way, and it seems clear the players are buying in. Demands like that can lead to fouling, especially early, but that play clearly took Portland out of its game and they fell into the trap of launching a lot of one on one jumpers, especially the usually dangerous Roy.
Though Thobodeau hardly was satisfied.
He seems to remain committed to the first 48-minute shutout in NBA history.
“We are not where we want to be, but we are getting there,” said Thibodeau of the defense. “Aldridge had a big night for them. I thought his catches were a little too easy. We gambled and got caught on the side. Camby puts a lot of pressure on you from the high post. I thought our team could have put pressure a little bit better. Overall, we did a lot of good things defensively and we still have a lot of things to clean up.”
Scouting the Bulls the first two games wasn’t anything complicated. You write down, “Rose left, Rose right, Rose middle.” So the Blazers had this brilliant plan to stop Rose. Of course, like all the great ones, Rose probably was thinking, “Just two guys?”
“We’d heard they would be playing zone,” said Rose. “So we came in prepared for that, but I easily could have shot numerous times. But they’re playing two people on me, so I’ve got to give it to Lu every time. The team knows when someone is hot you’ve got to find him. Taj played great and Kyle hit big shots, we got the ball moving and Lu was doing everything.”
Deng thus became the 18th Bull in franchise history to score at least 40 points in a game with Michael Jordan, Chet Walker and Jamal Crawford the only ones to score at least 50. The 40 club includes Bob Love, Ben Gordon, Scottie Pippen, Reggie Theus, George Gervin, Quentin Dailey, Orlando Woolridge, Elton Branfd, Jalen Rose, Jerry Sloan, Don Kojis, Bob Boozer, Norm Van Lier, Artis Gilmore and Flynn Robinson. Though only Jordan, Gordon, Gimore, Pippen and now Deng have scored 40 points with fewer than 20 shots.
It was a good start to the second week of the season and though Deng isn’t necessarily superstitious, he joked as he was leaving the locker room that the way things went maybe he shouldn’t have showered. It seemed the only bad idea he had of the night.