Deng continues to evolve as a clutch performer

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Deng continues to evolve as a clutch performer

TORONTOLuol Deng isnt Derrick Rose, and he isnt trying to be.

But with the injured superstar sidelined, the Bulls other returning All-Star has been a more-than-competent fill-in for the team in late-game situations. Take Wednesday nights 107-105 overtime road win over the Raptors.

Sure, it shouldnt have got to that pointnot with an 18-point third-quarter lead, another example of the Bulls season-long inconsistencybut Deng ensured they wouldnt blow it, knocking down a pull-up jumper with 3.3 seconds left in the extra session. Afterwards, while the team was relieved, there was a feeling that it was expected.

I thought Lu made a great read, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. Thats Lus strength right there. Big shot.

Not just the last shot. He had that big three when they were right on our heels and that was a huge shot right there. The guys who have been around and have seen him play a lot, you know thats what he does, whatever you need. You need great defense, he does that. You need a rebound in traffic, he does that. Move well without the ball, run the floor, he continued. To me, thats who he is. Thats what makes him such a good player.

Joakim Noah added: Oh, we have a lot of confidence in Louie. He told meeven before he hit the shothe said, Lets go home. Im going to hit this shot. Lets go home, so yeah, his swag is crazy.

I think all of us probably have more opportunities than we usually do offensively with Derrick being out. Right now, its all about holding the fort down, but I think Luol, hes playing his game and I think that hes somebody whos great because everything he does is within the system and when we play within the system and we play together, I feel like were very tough to beat. Lu can score 30 within the system, just with his cutting and the way he shoots the ball. He can score in so many different ways.

Deng took it in stride, attributing the game-winner to his maturation and development.

I felt comfortable the whole game. I just thought it was a good play, he explained. He was just patient to try and get a good shot.

I think its just maturing and being in the league for a while now, I know what I can do and what I cant do. When it comes to last minutes in the game, Im not as nervous or worried about what Im going to do as I used to be. Theres a few things that I do well and Im going to stick to that. At the end of the game, just stick to my game. I never get out of character, close game or not a close game, just play the same way, he went on to say. With the team that we have now, theres certain guys that weve been together for so long and we just know, Coach calls a play, we all feel comfortable with what were running out there. Before the overtime, we called a play for Marco and we were all comfortable with thatin the overtime, we switched the play and everyone was fine with it.

Thats the kind of relationship and kind of confidence we have in each other.

Deng, who scored 19 points, in addition to seven assists and six rebounds, pulled his hamstring in the opening period, though he quickly returned to the contest.

I tweaked it early in the first quarter. I was going to come out, I came out early, he said. The plan was to come back, but I just felt like I could play through it. Coach kept asking me, the training staff kept asking me how I felt, but hopefully it wont be too bad tomorrow. But just one of those nagging injuries. I just hope its not serious.

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls explode offensively to beat Bucks; Blackhawks battle Lightning tonight on CSN

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls explode offensively to beat Bucks; Blackhawks battle Lightning tonight on CSN

Here are some of the top Chicago sports stories from a busy Sunday: 

Tonight on CSN: Blackhawks look to bounce back vs. Lightning

Nikola Mirotic, Bulls show some moxie in road win over Bucks

Today on CSN: White Sox battle Dodgers in spring training game

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

White Sox rookie Charlie Tilson's foot could keep him out until late May

Joe Maddon doesn’t have any concerns about new Cubs closer Wade Davis

Nick Delmonico takes advantage of fresh start with White Sox

Cubs expect Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to be ready for Opening Night

Owners to consider on and off field changes this week during NFL meetings

Honda Road Ahead: Bulls continue playoff push against Cavaliers, Hawks

Honda Road Ahead: Bulls continue playoff push against Cavaliers, Hawks

Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill and Will Perdue break down the Bulls' upcoming schedule in the latest edition of the Bulls Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda dealers.

TNT Bulls are back this week as the team heads into a crucial stretch. 

Currently, the Bulls sit half a game back of the Miami Heat for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, and with just eight games remaining on the schedule, each contest is essentially a must-win. 

So, yes, Thursday would be a great time for Jimmy Butler and company to summon their TNT alter ego. The Bulls have sealed 18 straight victories when playing on TNT Thursday, an improbable feat considering those games are usually reserved for two of the NBA's best. 

To continue that run, they'll have to down Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are also fighting for playoff positioning -- albeit at the top of the conference. Good thing the Bulls have a tendency to get up for big games. 

"The Bulls play up and down to their competition," Bulls Pregame and Postgame analyst Kendall Gill said. "They've been doing that the whole season." 

After Cleveland, the Bulls get set to battle another playoff squad, the Atlanta Hawks. 

Watch the video above to see Schanowski, Gill and Perdue break down the matchups.