CHICAGO -- There were plenty of reasons why the Chicago Bulls lost Wednesday's night game, 95-90, against the Indiana Pacers, but two of the biggest ones, both literally and figuratively, were on the bench. Luol Deng (wrist) and Taj Gibson (ankle) had to sit and watch the Bulls struggle without them once again.
Never has the loss of both players stood out more. Tom Thibodeau must have desperately wanted to put in Deng to stabilize his shaky team during key stretches. Same goes for Gibson, who would have been the solid defensive presence the Bulls needed in the second half when the Pacers scored 51 points. They also ended up out-rebounding the Bulls, 44-41.
The Bulls' players knew they would miss both Deng and Gibson, but even they weren't sure just how much. Now they know.
"It's a lot," Bulls swingman Ronnie Brewer said. "Just not numbers wise [either]. Lu's a great leader on this team. We go through stretches where we're not playing Bulls-style basketball. He pulls everybody together and get us on the right page. Him and [Derrick Rose are] our leaders and we play through those guys."
Brewer's reaction reminds everyone that the adjustment the Bulls have to make without Deng in the lineup goes far beyond the numbers he puts together in the box score. Like Rose, Deng will huddle up his team on the floor and give them a pep talk when they need one. He was one of the guys the players listened to on the floor when they needed advice. After all, it was Deng who played in every single game last year and it's Deng who has spent more time playing for the Bulls than anyone else on his team.
While Gibson doesn't have Deng's tenure, he is a well-respected player in the locker room and a man his teammates trust to lock down other power forwards on the defensive end.
"Taj provides a presence inside," Brewer said. "Him and Omer [Asik], where it's pretty tough to get rebounds and get clear shots in the paint. We miss both of those guys. Hopefully we can get Taj back sooner than later. Same thing with Lu. Because they're huge pieces to this team."
With those pieces missing, the Bulls must now realize they have to find another way to build a win.
"The NBA is the NBA," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said. "People are going to get injured. So guys have got to step up. We got to step up as a team. We have confidence in each other. We know what we can do on the court. But we just got to go out there and do it."
Against most teams, the Bulls are able to overcome any obstacle, especially the teams they've faced early in the season. But now that the schedule is starting to toughen up on them, they've got to find a better way to make big shots and play great defense in the clutch. Two areas that Deng, and to a lesser extent Gibson, were both proficient in.
"They're obviously some of our better players," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "So we're not in full force, but that's not an excuse. We still feel like we have enough to win. We know we made mistakes tonight. We'll learn from them and move on."