A couple days after emotional Bulls fans declared James Johnson the new Bulls starting SF, Luol Deng responds with 40 points on 14/19 shooting, 3/5 from the three point line, and 9/11 from the charity stripe.
The Bulls pull off the (very minor) upset of the Blazers holding a 10 point or greater lead for nearly the entire game. While my nerves didn't calm down until Deng's final three gave them a 16 point lead causing Portland to yank it's starters, the game was never really in doubt.
After a rough start in his first two games, Luol's shot fell, and because his jumper fell he found ample room to drive to the basket and score layups. Pretty much everything was working for him, including his defense on Brandon Roy at spurts. Obviously, Deng gets the game ball for tonight's phenomenal effort.
Derrick Rose was having a very nice night as well. It's funny that 16 points seems like a poor night from him offensively after the past two games, but he didn't take many shots and had an efficient offensive night overall. He racked up 13 assists, matching his career high, including several passes for open dunks, his night was only marred by four fourth quarter turnovers.
Joakim Noah struggled through foul trouble and was abused, like everyone on the team, by LaMarcus Aldridge. You know Noah has arrived when he throws up 10 points, 10 boards, a block, and 4 assists, and you think he had a pretty poor night. It goes to show how quickly we've come to rely on him. I'm not sure if his defense was really that bad as much as Aldridge simply had it going tonight though, and he wasn't matched up on Aldridge all night, so he certainly wasn't solely responsible.
On the plus side, Noah's ball handling and court vision helped set the tone for the Bulls. The Blazers aggressively trapped the Bulls at times, but Noah makes it easy to break the traps with his ability to handle the ball in the open court.
Omer Asik fouled out in 26 minutes, but he used his size well while in the game, defended well, rebounded well, and looked every bit the backup center I hoped, but doubted, he could be. If he could only hit foul shots, he'd be so much deadlier. While still raw, I owe Omer an apology, because he's already providing so much while still having so much room to improve. He's clearly a player and an excellent back up center for the team. You never feel like he's killing you on the court when he's out there even with the high foul rate and low free throw percentage. As he fixes those things, he'll develop into a solid big man.
James Johnson got the chance to prove himself again, but wasn't able to capture the same magic. His man defense is very solid at times, but he ends up fouling a lot when he gets caught gambling.
Taj Gibson continues to shoot at a very high percentage, but he's getting mostly opportunity baskets. He did end the game with a sick drive with a spin move into a baseline reverse dunk though. While Taj has looked good in the offense with his basket cuts, his defense and rebounding have both been sub par on the season. Perhaps it's nothing to worry about given the Bulls have performed well on the glass as a team though.
Kyle Korver played his best game to date capitalizing on the numerous plays the Bulls ran for him and providing much of the offense while Deng was on the bench.
If Rudy Fernandez was trying to impress the Bulls into trading for him then he did a poor job. He finished with 6 points on 3 of 10 shooting and 0/6 from the three point line and finished with four turnovers (though several were offensive fouls in a weird stretch where the refs called about alternating offensive fouls on both teams multiple possessions in a row).
All in all, big win for the Bulls. It was a game I felt they were minor underdogs, but they came through and won. It goes a long way towards helping them through the brutal schedule to get a game like this early.