Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010
Updated 12:08 AM
By Aggrey Sam
Something was missing in the first two games of the Bulls' season. No, not Carlos Boozer; that's a given. Rather, Luol Deng, after a promising preseason, faded into the background in the team's first two contests.
That wouldn't be the case Monday evening, as Deng's career-high 40 points and a stout defense would spark a wire-to-wire 110-98 Chicago victory over visiting Portland at the United Center.
"Even in the first two games, I didn't think that he shot the ball well, but I thought he played well, because of all the things that he's doing. He's moving without the ball, he's cutting hard, he's making the extra pass and he's playing really good defense. Tonight, he was terrific offensively, just body was in motion, got out and ran the floor, so he did a number of different things," said Thibodeau about Deng afterwards. "Sometimes players will allow their offense to dictate their defense. You know that you're not going to shoot well every night. Maybe you have a tough matchup. Maybe you're being guarded well, you're being trapped. So, that night might be harder on you offensively, but there's other ways you can help and I think you want to be a defensive team first.
"Luol, from the start of camp, has been that way. He goes hard on defense every day in practice, so I was glad in the first two games, he didn't get down. He just kept working on his game, got in early, stayed late, getting a lot of shots up, so I was very confident he would come around."
A focused Bulls team took the United Center floor with bad intentions, as an aggressive offense produced results and head coach Tom Thibodeau's inside-out game plan was executed. Deng bounced back from a subpar game offensively, as his defense has been underrated; Deng at least made life difficult for Kevin Durant in the season-opening loss at Oklahoma City and absolutely hounded Ben Gordon after he was switched onto his former teammate in the second half of Chicago's successful home opener start to the season with an efficient (6-for-7 shooting, 16 points) opening quarter.
Taj Gibson was effective before returning to his pattern of quick foul trouble, as he was saddled with a pair early, leading to the insertion of rookie center Omer Asik. Fellow reserve James Johnson (playing shooting guard, and guarding Blazers star Brandon Roy and giving the Bulls a huge lineup with Asik's presence) was similarly rewarded for his strong play in Chicago's last win, receiving early playing time in return.
Unlikely secondary ballhandler Joakim Noah, the center was pressed into duty from the outset, when Portland took to full-court pressure of point guard Derrick Rose, who still managed to impact the contest with his slashing and playmaking repertoire didn't make much of a dent in the way of scoring, but made several nifty passes to provide opportunities for others and was responsible with the ball in his hands. Suffocating team defense, versatile power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, originally a Bulls draft choice in 2006 (he was swapped for the departed Tyrus Thomas in a draft-day deal), was the only Trailblazer to produce from a scoring standpoint also played a large part in Chicago leading, 32-21, after a quarter of play.
"I made shots, but we moved the ball really well. We had a lot of open shots the way they played our pick-and-roll, trying to blitz D.Rose," said the modest Deng. "When they're blitzing and we move the ball well, you've got players sometimes, you could play great "D" and guys still hit shots.
"I didn't really shoot the ball well the first two games. I shot the ball well tonight, but every night is going to be different. We've got a lot of new players on this team and we've just got to understand that. We've just got to find ways to win, but every night, your role will be different," he continued. "It's just the way the game goes sometimes and tonight, it was just the way the game went. I had a lot of open shots and a few easy layups early."
The second period would see the Bulls cruise early on, as a largely uninspired Trailblazers team seemingly walked through the motions. Utah expatriates Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer made positive contributions, as the reserve wings continue to attempt to integrate themselves into Thibodeau's system. Korver, in particular, looked to be in the flow, active and engaged, and his shooting would give Chicago a boost.
Rose, under much scrutiny for his high volume of shot attempts in the season's early going, functioned as a distributor primarily, demonstrating that any shoot-first tendencies were more out of necessity than choice. Portland crept back in the game, capitalizing on rushed shots by the home team and eventually cutting its sizable deficit to single digits, mostly by virtue of Aldridge's varied scoring methods. Despite the visitors finally appearing to be fully engaged by midway through the quarter, the Bulls maintained a 56-47 advantage going into the half.
"I'm the type of person where if I've got something going, I'm going to stick with it. If it's scoring, I'm going to stick with it if it's helping us and tonight, it was passing the ball. It might sound crazy as a point guard, but I'm different. They were hitting the shots and I had to keep feeding them, and I think they were knocking down shots that they were supposed to,' said Rose, who finished with a career-high tying 13 assists, as well as 16 points (on 11 shots) and five rebounds. "Anything easy, where my teammates were getting off. They played great, man, and we put them away pretty early.
"Coming into the game, I knew I could pass the ball. They were double-teaming me. I think I was making the right plays," continued Rose, who said he stayed in close contact with Deng to boost his spirits after his disappointing first two games of the season. "Deng's confidence is sky-high. He didn't even have a second guess about whether he was going to shoot or not. He was letting the ball go and that's what we need him to do, be that other threat for this team. He's one of them, he's put in a lot of work, so I think that it's paying off."
"Derrick was terrific. He got us a fast pace to the game, got us some easy scoring opportunities and I thought he was great with the pass tonight. I thought he was reading what's happening. They trapped him more and he made the right play," said Thibodeau. "It's important to make the right play. Derrick has the responsibility of running the team and some nights, a guy can get hot, he has a favorable matchup. He has to read that and the responsibility of a primary scorer is when the second defender comes, to hit the open man, and I think that he's done that."
Thibodeau added: "When he's been in single coverage, Derrick has attacked and he's been very effective. I think the better our defense is, the better we rebound, the more he's in the open floor and that's where I've said this many times he's impossible to guard, if he has a head of steam and he's coming at you. That's where we get going, there's easy scoring opportunities for everybody in transition."
Deng's hot shooting persisted into the third quarter, as the veteran small forward was torrid from the field. In turn, however, the Bulls had no answer for Aldridge, who gave them fits with his combination of shooting range, agility and back-to-the-basket moves. But in general, Chicago's defensive effort continued to fluster the Trailblazers, who were both cold from the outside and unable to get quality shots on the interior, especially with the pairing of Noah and Asik on the defensive end.
The Bulls held a comfortable winning margin, although Thibodeau was visibly displeased with the team's bugaboo on the short season repeatedly putting its opponent on the foul line; in contrast, Chicago was inefficient at the charity stripe themselves which ensured the contest wasn't a laugher just yet. After three periods, the Bulls led, 88-73.
While not visually appealing, Chicago maintained its comfortable cushion by way of stout defense early in the final stanza, although they struggled to find the basket themselves. Foul difficulties, however, would plague the Bulls and a subtle race to beat the clock before interior stalwarts Noah and Gibson, as well as Johnson and Asik, were disqualified ensued, while they simultaneously attempted to prevent a Portland comeback.
Deng's offensive brilliance continued, but in a stretch where Chicago relaxed a bit, the home team's grasp on the contest was strong enough that the tempo was slowed an all-reserve Portland lineup would pose a late challenge, but the game was already well in hand.
"We're not where we want to be yet, but we're getting there. I think we're moving in the right direction I thought overall, we did a lot of good things defensively, but we still have a lot of things to clean up," said Thibodeau. "Portland is a quality team, so I thought we did a lot of good things to get the win."
"I like the way we're playing. If someone gets hot, we're going to continue to go to that guy and I thought Derrick made a lot of great reads in the game," he continued. "Each night, I'm hopeful that it's going to be somebody different to take the scoring load off Rose. It's going to be more than one; we're going to need two, three, four guys."
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.