Deng continues to evolve as a clutch performer


Deng continues to evolve as a clutch performer

TORONTOLuol Deng isnt Derrick Rose, and he isnt trying to be.

But with the injured superstar sidelined, the Bulls other returning All-Star has been a more-than-competent fill-in for the team in late-game situations. Take Wednesday nights 107-105 overtime road win over the Raptors.

Sure, it shouldnt have got to that pointnot with an 18-point third-quarter lead, another example of the Bulls season-long inconsistencybut Deng ensured they wouldnt blow it, knocking down a pull-up jumper with 3.3 seconds left in the extra session. Afterwards, while the team was relieved, there was a feeling that it was expected.

I thought Lu made a great read, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. Thats Lus strength right there. Big shot.

Not just the last shot. He had that big three when they were right on our heels and that was a huge shot right there. The guys who have been around and have seen him play a lot, you know thats what he does, whatever you need. You need great defense, he does that. You need a rebound in traffic, he does that. Move well without the ball, run the floor, he continued. To me, thats who he is. Thats what makes him such a good player.

Joakim Noah added: Oh, we have a lot of confidence in Louie. He told meeven before he hit the shothe said, Lets go home. Im going to hit this shot. Lets go home, so yeah, his swag is crazy.

I think all of us probably have more opportunities than we usually do offensively with Derrick being out. Right now, its all about holding the fort down, but I think Luol, hes playing his game and I think that hes somebody whos great because everything he does is within the system and when we play within the system and we play together, I feel like were very tough to beat. Lu can score 30 within the system, just with his cutting and the way he shoots the ball. He can score in so many different ways.

Deng took it in stride, attributing the game-winner to his maturation and development.

I felt comfortable the whole game. I just thought it was a good play, he explained. He was just patient to try and get a good shot.

I think its just maturing and being in the league for a while now, I know what I can do and what I cant do. When it comes to last minutes in the game, Im not as nervous or worried about what Im going to do as I used to be. Theres a few things that I do well and Im going to stick to that. At the end of the game, just stick to my game. I never get out of character, close game or not a close game, just play the same way, he went on to say. With the team that we have now, theres certain guys that weve been together for so long and we just know, Coach calls a play, we all feel comfortable with what were running out there. Before the overtime, we called a play for Marco and we were all comfortable with thatin the overtime, we switched the play and everyone was fine with it.

Thats the kind of relationship and kind of confidence we have in each other.

Deng, who scored 19 points, in addition to seven assists and six rebounds, pulled his hamstring in the opening period, though he quickly returned to the contest.

I tweaked it early in the first quarter. I was going to come out, I came out early, he said. The plan was to come back, but I just felt like I could play through it. Coach kept asking me, the training staff kept asking me how I felt, but hopefully it wont be too bad tomorrow. But just one of those nagging injuries. I just hope its not serious.

5 Things to watch: Bulls open season against Celtics

5 Things to watch: Bulls open season against Celtics

The Bulls kick off their 2016-17 season Thursday night against the Celtics.

We'll have end-to-end coverage all season long. Make sure you're following these accounts for all the information you'll need: @vgoodwill, @MarkSchanowski, @markstrot, @ChuckGarfien, @CSNBulls.

Here are five things to watch for tonight. And don't forget to tune in to CSN on Saturday night as the Bulls host Paul George and Indiana Pacers.

1. The Three Alphas debut

Each of the Bulls' starting guards had their moments during the preseason, but it's admittedly tough to get a read on how well they'll perform when the games mean something. While it won't be entirely fair to judge them on one game - especially against a stellar defensive team in Boston - how the three players interchange with each other will say plenty. Watch for the way they share the basketball, who initiates the offense and, when one gets hot, if the other two don't mind taking a backseat for a handful of possessions.

2. Who takes the reins at power forward?

Fred Hoiberg said that Taj Gibson will get the start against the Celtics, and it's well deserved after his impressive preseason. Gibson is as rock solid and consistent on both ends as they come, but the reality is if the Bulls are going to be successful this year one of Nikola Mirotic or Bobby Portis will need to make a jump forward. The Celtics deploy postman Amir Johnson and stretch forward Jonas Jerebko at the 4, so Brad Stevens will give the Bulls multiple looks that they'll need to counter with the combination of Gibson/Mirotic/Portis.

3. Running of the Bulls

The Bulls are naturally going to push pace with a great initiator in Rondo and two excellent finishers in Butler and Wade. The Celtics played at home against the Nets last night, and four days into the season they're already playing their first back-to-back. It will be interesting to see if Hoiberg and the Bulls put an emphasis on pushing pace against a Celtics team that played 24 hours earlier.

4. How much will Denzel Valentine play?

The Bulls' rookie really only has one real practice under his belt, but he says he feels good enough that he'll suit up Thursday night. In most situations he wouldn't expect to see much playing time, if any. But the Celtics go 10 deep - 10 players played at least 15 minutes and scored eight points - and that may cause Hoiberg to go deeper into his bench than usual.

5. Fred Hoiberg's debut: Pt. II

Fred Hoiberg began his coaching career with a victory over the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers. The rest of the season didn't go as planned, but with a fresh roster and a year of experience under his belt he'll get another chance to show what he can do. He'll have to balance the Three Alphas, figure out the power forward spot and determine how his second unit works best together. And as far as tonight goes, he'll need to do it against one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens. There's plenty of time to evaluate Hoiberg, but a victory in Game 1 would be another good start for him and the Bulls.

Bulls exploring signing former Celtics shooting guard R.J. Hunter

Bulls exploring signing former Celtics shooting guard R.J. Hunter

According to CSN Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill, the Bulls are exploring signing former Celtics shooting guard R.J. Hunter.

The Bulls currently have one open roster spot.

Hunter, a first-round pick of the Celtics in 2015, appeared in 38 games as a rookie. He struggled from the field, shooting just 36.7 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from deep. He ultimately lost out on a roster spot this preseason in a crowded Celtics backcourt.

Hunter was the darling of the 2015 NCAA Tournament playing for his father at Georgia State. Hunter hit a game-winning 3-pointer against Baylor to propel the 14th-seeded Panthers to an opening-round win.

Hunter was a two-time Sun Belt Player of the Year, averaging 19.7 points per game as a junior.

The Bulls open their 2016-17 season tomorrow night against the Celtics.

Stay with for more updates on this story.