About midway through the second quarter of the Bulls' game on Saturday night against the Pacers, the Bulls were down 10, I was bored out of my mind and just really lamenting my decision to stay in and watch the dreck. But then Luol Deng started looking like an All-Star, bums made plays and the Bulls actually made my night worthwhile, scrapping out an 87-84 victory without Joakim Noah.
Deng was quiet in the second half, but he still managed to finish with a team-high 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting, going toe-to-toe with Paul George, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds. Deng looked as aggressive as he has all season, going straight at George off the dribble and helping get the Pacers' All-Star into some foul trouble. Deng went 6-of-10 from the charity stripe, his most free throws in a game since attempting 12 on Dec. 18. Lu also had a big offensive rebound late that led to free throws to help create some breathing room, although Indiana did make it interesting thanks to George Hill and some Kirk Hinrich stupidity. Luckily, George missed two potential game-tying threes in the final seconds.
Carlos Boozer also had a strong game, taking advantage of David West's absence to put up 18 points and 10 rebounds. Tyler Hansbrough was really no match for Boozer in the post, and it was nice to see Carlos go right at Psycho T. Boozer also had arguably the highlights of the night, making a crazy left-handed and-1 and also dunking over Roy Hibbert.
But perhaps more important than the contributions of Deng and Boozer (because they SHOULD be contributing like this), were the contributions of guys like Nazr Mohammed, Daequan Cook and Marquis Teague. Mohammed - who got the start in place of the plantar fasciitis stricken Noah - scored 11 points and pulled down seven rebounds in 31 extremely respectable minutes. The old man had some issues against Hibbert down low, but it's not like he was completely dominated down there. Where was this all year Nazr?!
Cook came in off the bench to provide a spark, and although he shot just 4-of-12, made some timely buckets. His coast-to-coast layup at the buzzer of the third quarter gave the Bulls a one-point lead that they would never relinquish. Unfortunately, Cook had to leave the game in the fourth quarter with a thigh bruise after crashing into a cameraman. Let's say it all together now...MOVE THOSE DAMN CAMERAS BACK!!!
And then there was Teague, who was forced into duty late in the third quarter after Nate Robinson was ejected for a flagrant 2 foul on Lance Stephenson (to me, that foul was worthy of that call). Teague missed both shots he took and certainly wasn't spectacular, but he did hand out three assists and did not turn the ball over in eight minutes of play. That's all I can ask for at this point.
Taj Gibson should also get props, as he scored seven of his 11 points in the fourth quarter and helped lock down the paint defensively. Hibbert had 18 points, but he had none in the fourth quarter, thanks in part to Gibson's stellar work on the defensive end. Although the Pacers sure did a poor job looking for Hibbert in the post. Either way, it's great to have Gibson back.
This is a great win for the Bulls, who easily could have laid down and died once the Pacers went up double-digits in the second quarter. Sure the Pacers were short-handed as well without West and played pretty poorly for the majority of the second half, but that in no way shape or form cheapens this win for me. Whenever you can grab a win over a quality opponent when your two best players are out, it's a great thing.