NEW YORK -- Luol Deng is nothing if not consistent.
The veteran forward is Tom Thibodeau's most reliable player and has proven time and time again that he can play at a high level on both ends of the floor. He did it Friday night, scoring a season-high 33 points, grabbing five rebounds and dishing out four assists in an impressive 108-101 win over the New York Knicks.
As usual, Deng’s defense was spot-on as well, frustrating Carmelo Anthony all night. Carmelo ended up with 39 points, but he had to take 32 shots to do it. Deng's postgame routine didn't change, either. After playing his usual 42 minutes, Deng iced his feet in a drink cooler that any soccer mom could appreciate. He was tired, but happy. As he has done all season, Deng led the way for the Bulls in more ways than one.
"Louie!" Bulls center Joakim Noah exclaimed. "That was an unbelievable performance. He really did his thing out there. What's great about Louie scoring is it's all within the system. And he's been playing great basketball with us all year. And there's no way we'd be in the position we're in right now, 20 wins, without Luol Deng. Whether it's his scoring, his defense, his rebounding. He's a very versatile player and I love playing with him."
So do the rest of his teammates. That's why they don't allow him to just fly under the radar they way he would like after a game. He provides the type of solid performance that solidifies the Bulls throughout the season.
"He was hot and we just kept feeding him," Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said. "He was on fire. We were trying to get him 40, we got to work on Thibs getting him some more plays. But no, he played great, man. He got us going offensively in the beginning, obviously all throughout the game, but especially in the beginning and helped us get that huge lead. And then he had (to go against Anthony) and did a great job."
Deng acknowledeged that there are some nights he has to carry more of the load on offense, but as Noah and others have pointed out throughout the season, Deng never gets his shots at the expense of others and he always brings intensity to the defensive side.
"Tonight my focus was to come out and just play as hard as I can defensively on Melo," Deng said. "I had it going offensively, had a lot of open looks and just kept going. But at the same time I just wanted to stay focused on my defense and not let my offense be my game."
That's music to the ears of Thibodeau and that's also why he loves the All-Star forward so much. Thibodeau never has to worry about Deng on the floor and knows that without Derrick Rose on the floor, Deng is the man who will lead by example.
"He got going early," Thibodeau said. "He got the hot hand, made a lot of good plays. I thought he guarded Carmelo about as well as you can guard him."
That's high praise from the most demanding of coaches. After playing so poorly during the second half of a Wednesday night loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, Deng helped focus his teammates and get them back on track. The Bulls are now 3-0 against the Knicks this season and a huge reason why is the sparkling play of their most dependable force. Thibodeau may not know what he's going to get night to night from his team, but he definitely knows what he'll get from Deng -- a solid effort.
"I think it's just our team. It's a great team effort. We come focused, we know it's a great environment to play in, a hostile environment to play in Madison Square Garden," Noah said of the 3-0 record against the Knicks. "Lu played very well for us but it was a team effort. Everybody's locked in every time we play the Knicks. It's easy to get up for games like this: big stage, playing in the Garden. I wish there was more games here."