When asked what the difference was between his team’s previous two games, both losses, and Thursday night’s 118-111 overtime win over the Knicks at the United Center, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau offered a one-word answer: “Luol.”
Deng, the Bulls’ All-Star small forward returned to the lineup after missing two games with a right-hip injury and while he dealt with foul trouble, beyond his 16 points and eight rebounds, his presence seemed to invigorate the squad.
“It’s just what he brings to our team,” the coach said. “Luol is the glue of the team, so when things are going tough, he makes us go. There’s a lot of subtleties to his game that people don’t notice or appreciate, but I think all his teammates and his coaches, and that’s why he makes our team what it is. When he’s out, it’s a different team.”
Deng explained that while he wasn’t in perfect physical condition, he was willing to make the sacrifice to help the Bulls get back on the right track.
“I felt good playing. I just got in foul trouble. Hip’s still bothering me a little bit, but I felt good,” he said. “Not 100 percent, but good enough to play.”
“This was a big game for us. With the hip, I was playing with it for a few games. Then, we decided to shut it down for a while to get the hip right. It felt better and I’m glad we got the win,” Deng continued. “We lost two games, we needed to get back into it and it just happened to be New York, and they had a streak. Could be good for us that a team coming in here was that hot and we beat them, just to get back to playing well.”
Hamilton starting to find his rhythm
In his second game back after missing 19 consecutive contests with a bulging disk in his back, Rip Hamilton made a positive impact with 14 points and eight assists in 25 minutes of play.
“I felt good. [Thibodeau] played me a little bit more minutes, so it felt pretty good, just running and getting to my spots,” he explained. “It was a big win, especially with Atlanta [who entered Thursday tied with the Bulls for fifth place in the Eastern Conference] winning [Wednesday night].
“It’s that time of the year. I just try to push the button a little bit, try to speed up the game,” Hamilton continued. “I’ve always been confident. Things just happen.”
Gibson returning to lineup soon?
After the game, Taj Gibson tried out a new, bulky knee brace in the Bulls’ locker room and while he didn’t look completely comfortable walking with it, it could be a sign of progress as he recovers from a left-knee sprain.
“I’m feeling good, I’m feeling better. I’m just getting back to this running normal, but this new brace is something totally different,” he explained. “It’s to stabilize [his left knee]. It healed, but it’s still a little weak.
“I’m going to wear it in a game. It’s similar to what Chris Bosh wears, but I’ve just got to get used to wearing it,” Gibson continued. “We’re going to do some tests tomorrow and see how I feel, and see how I’m running, but I’m looking forward to coming back.”
While the Bulls’ top reserve wouldn’t commit to playing in Friday’s game in Toronto, he was cautiously optimistic about the prospects of him returning on the team’s three-game road trip.
“As soon as I play healthy, I’m going to try to go back out there. The whole key is not to rush back. I kind of felt like I pushed myself just to get back, to help the team and I kind of rushed it. I wasn’t really too able, then I got hurt again, so this time I’m making the proper precautions and taking the right steps,” Gibson said. “It feels stronger. We’re taking a lot more precautions. It’s a lot harder being injured than just playing ball because you’ve got to work out almost every day, twice a day, treatment three times a day, so they’re on top of it. They don’t want any more letdowns to happen.
“It’s real frustrating because you’re in the back, you want to help your teammates, it’s a big game on TV, you’re playing against the Knicks, your hometown team. Me and Joakim were in the back; we were about to break the TV, I swear, but we were just back there going crazy. It’s so frustrating.”
Former Bull Thomas appreciated by Knicks
According to reports, Kurt Thomas, the league’s oldest active player, is on the verge of getting waived, so the injury-depleted Knicks can add another player, free agent James Singleton, to the roster.
If that happens, it will be due to Thomas’ fractured foot, which ended his season, and not because the team doesn’t value him, something Bulls fans can identify with, as the grizzled veteran came through in a major way during absences to starters like Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer during his one-year stint in Chicago.
In the first game of New York’s 13 straight wins, Thomas virtually saved the day, as the Knicks, sans Carmelo Anthony, got an improbable road win in Utah.
“That Utah game stands out because I had nowhere else to go,” Knicks head coach Mike Woodson said. “Kurt, the 26 minutes put him in the position he’s in, in terms of probably not being able to play again this year.”
Anthony concurred: “To be honest with you, I think that game in Utah that Kurt won for us really turned the ship around for us. For him to go out there and be playing on a fractured foot and do the things that he did for that game, and help us win that game on the road, he helped us right that ship. It started from that game, it started from his play and I don’t think he gets enough credit for that.”
If, for whatever reason, Thomas doesn’t resume his playing career next season, it’s fitting that he ended it in New York, where he—alongside Thibodeau, a Knicks assistant at the time—made a Finals appearance back in 1999.
Shumpert making progress
Oak Park, Ill., native Iman Shumpert didn’t have a huge game against his hometown team, scoring seven points in 26 minutes of play before fouling out, which could have been partially due to having a heavy heart after being informed about the death of a loved one after the Knicks’ morning shootaround.
However, the second-year Georgia Tech product is gradually regaining the form that made him one of the league’s top rookies last season prior to tearing his ACL the same day Derrick Rose tore his last April, then making his season debut in January.
“He’s getting better. He still has a ways to go. I’m still thinking he’s dealing a little bit with—he’s injury-free—but from a basketball standpoint, he just doesn’t have enough reps under his belt and he might not get that until this summer. Right now, he’s playing on the fly because we don’t practice a lot to teach and show him, and he’s learning a lot through tape and at the end of the day, you’ve still got to play in this league and learn. That’s how you really learn and he hasn’t been able to do much of that,” Woodson said of Shumpert, who quite understandably wasn’t available to the media Thursday.
“He’s getting there. I thought the other night, he was fantastic and he’s had his ups and downs, but I think as the games go by and he continues to play more, he’ll be back to his old self. I just need him to be nastier on the defensive end. That’s where he made his statement last year.”
As for Rose’s situation, Woodson took the diplomatic approach, saying, “I’m not going to comment on Chicago’s camp. They’re dealing with their own injuries and their problems that they’ve had this year, too. I don’t know the severity of Derrick’s injury. I know he had the ACL and how severe it was, I don’t know. But I’m sure when he’s ready to play, he will.”
Kirk Hinrich on Nate Robinson’s post-basket celebrations: “I missed a few of them tonight, but definitely, he’s constant entertainment…I teach them all [to Robinson]. We work on them before the game and then he goes out there, and executes them.”
Robinson on why he was assessed a second-quarter technical foul by referee Joey Crawford: “For not saying anything, but it is what it is. For the both of us, Joey’s a hothead, just like me, so I don’t blame him."
Thibodeau on the flurry of two technical fouls and three personal fouls: “I don’t know…probably better left unsaid.”