NEW YORK—For good reason, Luol Deng was unfazed by criticism of his six-point Game 1 outing, a contest the Bulls lost, 106-89.
“I wasn’t worried about my game. I said last game: Gerald is a great player. Last game I just felt like the game got out of hand. I really thought we didn’t execute how we usually do. Tonight it was a close game and we just kept executing,” he explained after Monday evening’s Game 2 win over the Nets at the Barclays Center, in which he had 15 points, 10 rebounds and set the tone for the visitors from the outset.
“I felt last game, my game plan was trying to get everyone going early. Tonight, it was the opposite. I tried to get myself going early and tried to be aggressive, and once we had control of the game, especially in the second half, it was just about making big plays and we did that tonight.”
The longest-tenured player on the squad came up big when it counted, playing his role as the team’s primary scoring option, making big plays in the clutch and as usual, doing the small things that make the Bulls successful.
“I never measure Luol on his scoring. I measure him on his all-around play because of all the things that he does for our team,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It’s not an individual game.
“The guys who see him every day, sometimes you can take him for granted for all that he does for our team. He’s really the glue of the team and whenever you take him out, you can see that. He brings a lot of intangibles, as does Jo, as does Kirk Hinrich, so those are the guys who probably don’t get the credit that they deserve.”
While Thibodeau might not harp on Deng’s scoring, the leadership the All-Star provided was recognized by his fellow players, as his early aggressiveness often dictates what kind of game the Bulls have.
“We need Lu. Lu, he’s the glue to this team. We need Lu aggressive, offensively and defensively,” Joakim Noah said. “He’s been doing that for us all year and we know that to get past Brooklyn, we need a big Luol Deng.”
Taj Gibson chimed in: “Lu did a great job. He was real frustrated last game. he understood that he has a role on this that’s bigger than that. He stepped up big from the tip of the ball and he played like an All-Star, which is what he is.”