Thursday, April 21, 2011Posted: 2:00 p.m.
By Aggrey Sam
INDIANAPOLISWith all of the concern about Derrick Rose having to do too much scoring in the Bulls first-round series against the Pacers, one would think the team simply doesnt have capable secondary options. True, Carlos Boozer struggled in Game 1 and although he bounced back with a solid outing in Game 2, he also went long stretches without impacting the game on offense.
But while the Bulls certainly need Boozer to consistently play well for the team to make an extended postseason run, it seems many people are forgetting the player who was considered the teams glue: Luol Deng. The small forward hasnt been as offensive-minded through the series first two games for good reason; his primary assignment has been defending Pacers leading scorer Danny Granger.
Every series is going to be different, if you look at every team. Depending on who we play nextlets say, after this round, we win this round and we play Orlandosomebodys going to have to guard Dwight (Howard) and whoever that somebody is, as a team., weve got to let him know and hes got to understand that affecting that guy defensively is going to help us a lot more than what you do for us offensively, said Deng, who received votes, along with teammates Keith Bogans and Joakim Noah, for the NBAs Defensive Player of the Year award, which went to Orlandos Howard for the third consecutive season.
Thats really how I look at this series. If I have high-scoring games, thats a plus, but for me, making Granger work for every basket, making it tough for himeither he shoots a low percentage taking a lot of shots or he doesnt get a lot of shotsthats really my goal and every game in this series, thats what Im going to do.
Chimed in Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: The thing with Granger is, you dont stop a player like that. What youve got to do is try to make him work for his points and hes one of the best scorers in the league because of all the different ways he gets it. He can pick-and-roll, he can catch-and-shoot, he can post, hes dangerous in transition, hes a very good offensive rebounder, he can get to the line. What we have to do is be tied together and try to make him work for those points, but hes a load. Hes hard to guard.
Deng knows his offense is a secondary concern for him this series, but while he admits that improved play from Boozer will help ease Roses burden, he also believes that the final result is more important than how it happens.
I know were going to need Boozer. Derrick is carrying a lot of the load right now and a lot of people are talking about, Is Derrick doing too much? but I keep saying, every series is going to present a different story. If we win every game and Derrick scores like that, then thats who we are, thats what were trying to do. If we start losing and Derrick is putting up all these points, then weve got to start talking about other things, Deng explained.
Dengs approach hasnt varied all season, perhaps his best all-around campaign and one in which he played in all 82 regular-season games for just the second time in his career.
It meant a lot. I wanted to get back to that. I tried last year. I ended upI think I played 70 or 72, I dont rememberit was a goal of mine, but then I had that calf strain. Coming into this year, I wanted to make it a goal, to make sure I played every game. I had no idea I was going to play as many minutes as I did. Im just really happy I was able to be consistent and thats what I always wanted to do, just be consistent, said Deng.
When Coach got the job, he called me and he really told me how he felt, what kind of player I could be, how he was going to use me and he really felt like I was very underratedhe kept telling me thatand it helped me with my confidence. When I came in, practicing and the way he was going to use me, I just knew I was going to play a lot.
In the wake of his individual and the teams success this season, the seventh-year pro doesnt dwell on it, but the labelsoftsome fans have put on him since he signed a six-year, 71-million contract extension in the summer of 2008 and was hampered by various injuries cut him deep.
It bothered me a lot. I think what bothered me the most was how the whole injury thing came up. I know its behind me now, but it really bothered me a lot. Just to be called that, knowing what I played througheven before that, with the injuriesI didnt like it. Not that I could help what people say, but it bothered me a lot, acknowledged Deng, who led the Bulls in minutes played and logged the third-most court time amongst his peers in the league this season. I didnt do it play 82 games for anyone. I wasnt trying to prove anyone wrong. The things that were said about me bothered me, but I never really played basketball for anyone but me, so I just felt like I really wanted to do it for myself. Just play the games, help my team as much as I can and really be happy with what I did during the season.
Not just the soft thing. A lot of people said I got paid and I gave up the game, and to me, that bothered me a lot. I dont know how to explain it, but if youre ever offered that money, youre not going to say, No, Im going to take less, but Im still going to play, he continued. The deal was done, but that bothered me more than anything, with where Im from and what Ive been through, for people to think that money would let me give up the game. Thats just stupid.
While the versatile, underrated native of Sudan is now more appreciated by Bulls fans, perhaps nobody treasures his talent more than Thibodeau.
Lu will be fine. You can count on him, said the coach, who wasnt pleased, however, with the technical foul Deng earned in Game 1 of the series for coming to the defense of Rose. Hes going to play defense, hes going to help you execute offensively and hes going to make shots. Hes already proven that. He just has to keep doing all the things hes been doing,
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.