Offense, defense, halftime motivator ... Deng does it all
Pick a hero.
The Bulls had a room full of them Sunday night in their 103-82 dismantling of the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
But it was Luol Deng's eye-popping line that stood out perhaps even ahead of the 28 points and 6 assists produced by Derrick Rose.
How's this for a night's work from Deng: 21 points, 7 rebounds, 4 steals, zero turnovers and 4-of-6 shooting from the 3-point line while playing more than 44 minutes, mostly matched against LeBron James.
Oh, yeah, it was Deng who spoke up with Carols Boozer after a so-so first half by the Bulls that found the game tied at 48-48.
"Luol really got into us," Taj Gibson said. "He's one of the leaders on this team and he stepped up with (Boozer) and told us just understand we've been in this sitiuatuon, there's no pressure, to go out and have fun and we did that."
Deng was an intregal part of a great defensive effort as he helped hold James to just 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting. James rarely got to the basket and settled for much of the night on desperate attempts from the outside.
Deng claimed he didn't do anything special against James.
"He just missed shots he normally makes," Deng said. "I don't have any secrets for that guy. He's a great player and can score in so many different ways. He just had an off night. I'm not going to take all the credit."
Maybe so, but Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau felt Deng made James work for his shots.
"Luol, you can count on him every night," Thibodeau said. "Luol is going to make him work. But Luol, it's not only his individual defense, it's his team defense. And I think it's critical for us. So it's not only when he guarding LeBron with the ball, but when he's away from the ball he fulfills his help responsibility so well.
"He's been a multiple-effort guy. He can help, recover, challenge his shot and get back in and rebound. He does so many different things for us."
This was a team effort turned in by the Bulls in so many ways. They had 31 second-chance points to Miami's 8 and got 28 points from the bench to the Heat's 15.
Gibson had 9 points and 7 rebounds in 23 minutes and brought down the house at the United Center with a pair of dunks that will be replayed everywhere between now and Game 2 on Wednesday.
Gibson's slam over Dwyane Wade early in the second quarter had the UC rocking, but it was his windmill rebound jam in the final seconds that earned him a 10 from the 22,874 judges in attendance.
"The one on Wade was crazy and the one at the end of the game was crazy, too," Joakim Noah said.
The Bulls were all business in winning the series opener, reacting to the blowout with confidence and respect for the Heat.
"The way I feel is they're going to come harder the next game, but you know what? We're going to come harder, too," Noah said.
Said Deng: "We won 62 games. We know we're a good team. There's a lot of opinions out there, but we're not getting carried away. We're just staying focused.
"In order to win you've got to think you're the best. We believe in each other and just go out and play."