In his first game back in the Bulls’ lineup after missing four consecutive contests with a sore left Achilles’, All-Star small forward Luol Deng got off to a quick start, scoring 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting, grabbing five rebounds and dishing out a pair of assists in the first half.
He only recorded two more points, rebounds and assists apiece in the remainder of Saturday night’s 99-77 Bulls loss to the Raptors at the United Center, as well as shooting 1-for-9 from the field in the second half.
“I’ve been out for a little while. It was good to be back on the floor. I’m disappointed that we didn’t get the win,” Deng said. “It was more — not so much fatigue — it was more my rhythm. This year I’ve done a good job of just making sure I stay behind, get shots up, go in on my off days. I just know I’m a rhythm guy, and the first half, it was on my mind. Came out aggressive, shot the ball great. Second half, I felt like my timing was off. Not so much fatigue, just timing really. It was a little bit off.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau thought that Deng — as well as fellow starting wing Jimmy Butler, in his second game back in the lineup after missing 11 games with a right turf-toe injury — fared well, considering the circumstances.
“Good, I thought (Deng) was terrific in the first half and in the second half, I thought some conditioning (affected his play),” the coach explained. “Same with Jimmy. I liked the way Jimmy played defensively. Now, he’s got to get his timing back and that’ll come.”
A side effect of Deng’s return could be decreased playing time for rookie swingman Tony Snell, who had been starting at shooting guard in Butler’s absence. With veteran reserve Mike Dunleavy Jr. playing well and serving as the first wing off the Bulls’ bench, Snell could get the short end of the stick, as evidenced by his five minutes of playing time against Toronto.
“Yeah, we’ll see,” Thibodeau said about the situation. “We’ll see how things unfold.”