MINNEAPOLIS—With back-to-back nights of 20 and 17 points, respectively, it’s not like Luol Deng is doing anything out of the ordinary.
But after struggling with his shooting since his second straight trip to the NBA All-Star Game last month, it’s been a return to form for the longest-tenured player on the squad, something Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau again bristled over, following his team’s 104-97 win Sunday night over the Timberwolves at the Target Center.
“You can’t say enough about what Luol does for the team. He’s an incredible player. Defense, making plays, keeping our team together, great leader,” he said. “People look at, ‘Oh, he didn’t shoot the ball well in a game,’ like he’s not playing well. Well, that’s never the case with Luol because of all the other things he does out on the floor. It’s his rebounding, his playmaking, his individual defense, his team defense. You can’t overlook that. Some great team defenders and poor individual defenders. Luol’s both. Excellent individual defender and excellent team defender.”
As an example, Thibodeau cited a late-game offensive rebound by Deng, which led to a Nate Robinson triple, which thwarted a potential Minnesota rally down the stretch.
“We had a couple of those in the fourth quarter that were just huge. That’s finding a way to win. We’re a little disjointed right now. We’ve got a lot of guys in and out, so it’s hard to build a rhythm,” he explained. “But that’s a big-time play and that, to me, is what gets overlooked with Luol all the time. “
Robinson discusses Saturday ejection
Robinson was unavailable after Saturday’s home win and before Sunday’s victory, so he wasn’t asked about his flagrant-two foul on Indiana’s Lance Stephenson, which prompted his ejection.
When Deng was questioned about the performance of the backup point guard Sunday—Robinson had 22 points and 10 assists—his humorous answer, given before Robinson was dressed, was interesting.
“It’s huge. he got ejected yesterday, so he was rested,” Deng said. “He had a lot of energy for us tonight, so that was great.”
Of course, it didn’t top Robinson’s own response.
“I knew you were going to sneak that in there, but I really don’t even want to talk about it. I mean, it happened. It wasn’t like I was trying to go out there and hurt him, so Lance, if he’s listening, it wasn’t a foul where I was trying to hurt him, but no layups,” Robinson said. “That’s the rule that we go by, so it’s not like if somebody else gets the fast break, I’m going to let him go. Nope, if I have to, I’m going to take the foul like I feel like I need to.”
Robinson also discussed his matchup with Minnesota’s similarly diminutive reserve scoring point guard J.J. Barea, also known as a feisty competitor.
“Just playing hard. He’s one of the hard workers in the league, he plays hard,” said Robinson, who baited Barea into a fourth-quarter technical foul. “Same height, same position, so of course, we play with a chip on our shoulder. So, for me to play against him, it’s just a challenge. He just brings the best out of me.”
Gibson continues strong play since injury
In his third game back from a 10-day layoff due to a left-knee sprain, Taj Gibson again had a double-figure scoring night, notching 12 points, along with 11 rebounds.
His lack of rust since returning to the lineup has been remarkable and Gibson explained that advice from some Bulls legends has helped him through the process.
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“I’ve just been working, ever since I got hurt. Even though I wasn’t running on the court, I was lifting weights, keeping my body fresh, listening to the vets like Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen. They always talk to me about still working on your body even when days are easy because you never know how far you’re going to go in the playoffs and just stay fresh,” he said. “I’m feeling great.”
He did have a scare late in the game after bumping his injured knee with against that of Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio, causing him to briefly leave the contest.
“I went knee-to-knee with Ricky. It was real painful. I just had to sit out. but I’m a warrior, I asked to go back in, made sure we finished this game on the right foot and it was good,” Gibson said. “It was ironic how it’s the knee that I hurt. I was trying to make a play on the ball, going to the rim and just collided knees.”