Despite loss, Deng fares well in head-to-head matchup with Durant
November 9, 2012, 12:06 am
Luol Deng sat in the Bulls’ locker room in the United Center, his face buried in his hands, his legs submerged in ice water. The All-Star small forward appeared to be a combination of tired and dejected, a byproduct of not only matching up with Oklahoma City superstar Kevin Durant, but his team’s frustrating defeat at the hands of the Thunder.
Deng, thrust into the role of the Bulls’ go-to player—and not just from a scoring perspective—actually outscored the three-time defending NBA scoring champion, 27-24, Thursday night, but as he always says, basketball isn’t about individual battles. Still, he blamed himself for Durant’s array of near-impossible shots—including a one-legged fadeaway, a la Dirk Nowitzki—down the stretch, which led to the Thunder’s win.
“Fourth quarter,” he said. We’ve got to do a better job of getting stops. I’ve got to do a better job of stopping Kevin.
“I thought I was on him. He’s a great player and won the game for his team,” Deng continued. “He hit tough shots at the end. Give him all the credit.
“They did a good job, but we were right there. It was just making plays, getting stops. We were in the game, though. Even when they went up four, we came down and scored, and we were a stop away, and Durant hit that tough shot, fading away off one leg…both teams were making plays. I can’t say they stopped us. We were just trading baskets. We can’t do that.”
Deng is the ultimate team player, just as content when he struggles with his shot and the Bulls win as he is when he leads them in scoring Thursday, as long as they win that game, too. After making his first All-Star Game last season and Derrick Rose currently sidelined, it’s only logical that he sees increased defensive attention and when he doesn’t or has a mismatch—such as when newly-acquired Thunder shooting guard Kevin Martin had to defend him in the post—Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau will go to him early and often.
But while he’ll be more aggressive this season without Rose to shoulder the offensive load, don’t expect Deng to change his approach. He insists that the only way the Bulls will be successful is through an offense-by-committee philosophy
“I’m never going to change the way I play. I’m just going to take the game as it comes. Tonight I had it going and I hit some shots. Coach was calling my number in a mismatch and we just went with it, but every night is going to be different,” he explained. “We’ve got so many guys on this team that can score and some nights, Boozer’s going to have it going and we’re going to go to him. It’s going to be Rip, it’s going to be Jo, it’s going to be someone else and that’s our team right now. No one has to change the way they play. We’ve just got to keep playing.”
Whether or not Deng wants to be singled out for his individual efforts, his teammates and coaches recognize and appreciate his contributions. Now more than just a glue guy, he’s the player the Bulls need to come up big in big situations—as a scorer, defender, playmaker or rebounder and sometimes all of them simultaneously—in order to keep up with the league’s elite teams.
“I love playing with Lu. He’s a hell of a competitor and he can do a lot of things out there on the court. He can score, he can rebound, he plays great defense. I thought Lu played a great game, man,” Joakim Noah proclaimed about his long-time teammate. “Those guys were going a little bit, so Thibs was calling their names and their plays a lot tonight, and when those guys are scoring that way, it opens up the floor a lot. It gives us a lot of easy opportunities.
Added Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: “Lu provides whatever you need. If you need more scoring, he can do that.”
And whatever else the team needs, Thibodeau would have said, if he was in a better mood. While neither player nor coach believes in moral victories, one thing the Bulls should know moving forward, if they didn’t already: Deng is the one player, in the absence of Rose, that has the ability to singlehandedly keep them competitive on nights when others don’t have it going and when they do, he’s the rare star who doesn’t mind playing a background role.
, Chicago Bulls
, Tom Thibodeau
, Oklahoma City Thunder
, Kevin Durant
, Luol Deng
, Aggrey Sam