MIAMI -- Unlike probably the entire city of Chicago, Derrick Rose's heart didn't sink when Chris Bosh came over to Luol Deng's side and set a pick on him that left Joakim Noah trying to defend LeBron James with the game on the line. Rose didn't doubt that his center could stay in front of James, because Rose knew that if Noah could stay in front of him he could stay in front of anybody.
"Jo sticks me sometimes in practice, so if anything LeBron is just bigger," Rose said. "Way bigger. And the biggest thing was not fouling him. I thought they were going to call a foul. After we saw that they didn't call a foul, our next thing was getting the rebound. We lost some games like that when we didn't get the rebound, and people got fouled or hit the shot, and then they won the game or whatever. It was a tough win, but we got it out of the way."
The Bulls got the 87-86 win, in part because Noah made two huge plays in the final 20 seconds. Not only did he stay in front of James and force him into a miss at the rim, he also tipped a Deng miss at the line back out to Deng and gave him another chance to give the Bulls the lead at the foul line.
"To me, that's the play of the game," Deng said. "Just that tip. I just saw the ball and I went for it and I thought I got pushed and got a chance to redeem myself."
Between Noah's tip and his defense on James, his coach couldn't have been more pleased.
"They're tough because of their quickness," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We're fortunate because we have three bigs that are capable of guarding small guys. In terms of our quickness, we can stay big if that's what we choose to do. And Jo gives you the ability to switch on pick-and-rolls, and then it's a tough cover from there. I thought he did a great job. I thought his activity was really, really good today. He did a lot of good things out there."
Thibodeau knew that even if Noah defended James perfectly, there was still a chance that James could drop a game winner. So when James missed and then Dwyane Wade missed at the buzzer, Thibodeau and the rest of his team went crazy.
"All we're thinking about in that situation is, ‘Get a stop,’ ” Noah said. "It takes more than one person to stop a guy like that. I think we're just doing a great job of shrinking the floor."
That defensive execution late in the game even made Thibodeau smile a little bit.
"LeBron has the ability, even when you defend him perfectly, to still make," Thibodeau said. "And the challenge is not to get frustrated and make shots tough. But I thought Jo really protected the rim and did a great job of challenging shots and so that's what he brings to a team and that was a big-time play at the end."
Kind of like Deng's foul shots to get the lead.
After making just one of two, Deng took advantage of his second chance by knocking down two clutch free throws with just 15.9 seconds left.
"Luol, you can just trust that guy,” Thibodeau said. “He does everything for you. And anytime you put two [guys] on Derrick, his responsibility is to find the open man. And every time he does that without hesitation. Even the last play, Jo tipping [it], Luol coming up with the loose ball, the foul, going to the line, got the second chance to make the free throws, and he did.
“You look at Lu the whole game, he's got a tough cover. He's on LeBron the whole time. But you can count on that guy every night. And he's a complete player. He does everything for us. He's the glue of our team."
For Deng, the entire sequence only underscored the team-first mentality the Bulls have played with all season. Their confidence continues to grow by the day and the veteran forward knows it.
"We do a good job of playing together," Deng said. "And our second unit is solid. But we play hard; even though we're winning, [Monday's] game, we'll be ready. We're going to go out there and play hard. And we've just got the group that, we're really doing a good job of holding each other accountable. And we don't have anyone on the team that you can't really yell at if they miss an assignment. We're all close and that's how we talk to each other on the court."