Hit big shots? Hit the boards? Limit the game’s most talented player? Check, check and huge check.
The Bulls lead the Heat 1-0 after a 103-82 victory on Sunday, and a big reason for that is Deng. All he did was score 21 points, grab seven rebounds and contribute four steals while neutralizing James in an all-around performance that helped lift Chicago to an impressive victory.
“That’s Luol Deng,” Chicago’s Carlos Boozer said. “He’s an unsung hero for us. He should have been an All-Star this season. It’s a normal game for Lu. He plays most of the other teams’ best player _ or second-best player, whatever the case may be. He scores for us, hits big shots in the clutch for us, rebounds the ball, is a great leader out there, always inspiring us. Luol needs to get more love.”
If he keeps this up, that won’t be a problem. Game 2 is Wednesday at the United Center, but the Bulls are certainly not writing off Miami.
“They’ve lost big games and come out aggressive the next day,” Deng said.
It might help if the Heat moved the ball rather than try to beat the Bulls off the dribble, an approach that did not work. They also got hammered on the glass, with Chicago outrebounding them 45-33 and outscoring them 31-8 on second-chance points.
Now, they’re in a hole.
“Everybody understands that we are disappointed about last night’s game, and we still have an opportunity and sometimes you have to have amnesia going into Game 2,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You can’t just let it go, the next 2 1/2 days we’re going to work to fix some of these challenges that we had last night. But we still have to understand Wednesday is a golden opportunity for us. It doesn’t matter. Sometimes there are good performances, bad performances in the playoffs. That’s really irrelevant, it really just comes down to a win and a loss.”
Their chances would certainly be better if James performed like he is capable.
He scored just 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting. Whether it was Deng sticking to him or the big men helping out, he simply had no room to operate and was basically a non-factor in the game.
He looked good enough in the early going when he blocked Deng’s layup in the opening seconds and fed Dwyane Wade for a fastbreak slam.
Then, he picked off a pass by Rose and broke for dunk, and he did all that in the first 40 seconds. He also picked up two fouls in the first quarter and committed two of his four turnovers, with Joakim Noah stripping him and Deng picking off a pass, and he was nowhere to be found in the second half.
In the third quarter, when the Bulls outscored Miami 24-15, James scored just two points and attempted four shots. At one point, he lost the ball near the Chicago bench and got blocked seconds later trying to go one-on-one against Taj Gibson.