Mention the name Luol Deng around Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and you might get the hard-nosed coach to crack a smile.
The small forward turned in another gem as the Bulls battled back from 13 down to defeat the Detroit Pistons for the 18th straight time.
Deng scored a game-high 28 points, including 14 in the final stanza, and pulled down nine rebounds. He matched a career-high with 11 made free-throws and surpassed his career-high mark with 17 attempts.
“That’s who he is, done it all year,” Thibodeau said. “It’s hard to take him off the floor because of what he does for our team. You can play him at the 2, 3, 4; post him, slash him, drive him, spot him. The guy is a terrific all-around basketball player. Great individual defender, great team defender and you can’t overlook that.”
His coaches and teammates don't judge him by miss or made shots because of all the extra things he does when he’s on the floor, but even some have been surprised by his recent aggression that has seemed to heightened with Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis) being out of the lineup.
“For a guy that plays 48 minutes a night, you would think he would shy away from contact,” said Jimmy Butler. “Not him. That’s one tough [expletive] dude.”
The Bulls also received contributions from Daequan Cook (10 points, six rebounds and four assists), while Nate Robinson and Taj Gibson combined for 27 points off the bench.
Nazr Mohammed has also played well in Noah’s absence, and despite the changes and variations in the lineup and rotation, Thibodeau believes that it’s only a benefit for his team.
“I think you look at it positively,” Thibodeau said. “Some of the bench guys get an opportunity to play and they've played extremely well. I thought, overall this week, we've played some really good basketball. I want us to continue to improve. Obviously, we prefer to have everyone. Ideally, that’s what we want and we want everyone to be playing well. In any season, you need your entire team. So whoever is out there, get the job done.”
With 10 games remaining, the Bulls are looking to get Noah and Marco Belinelli back in the rotation, and possibly Richard Hamilton and Derrick Rose.
The mindset of the team now is take things one game at a time and finish the season strong.