BOSTON -- The Chicago Bulls have been down the same road so many times during the past 2½ seasons that they've started to create a new path of their own. They don't need a map to find their way out of trouble; they just rely on old experiences for guidance.
When one of their stars goes down, they usually find somebody else to step up. That was the case again Friday late in the third quarter, when Luol Deng re-injured his right hamstring. Instead of panicking, the Bulls pulled together and found a way to pull out a thrilling 100-99 overtime win over the Boston Celtics.
How did they do it?
"We step up by committee," said Bulls forward Carlos Boozer. "That's always been our motto since we got together 2½ years ago. We step up by committee.”
“Everybody comes in and has to do a little bit more,” he said. “And if Lu has to be out, I know Marco [Belinelli]'s up for the challenge. I know Jimmy [Butler]'s up for the challenge. And the rest of us are, too. We do it by a collective effort."
Boozer should know: He continues to lead the charge. He racked up yet another double-double Friday night, with 19 points and 20 rebounds. But as he pointed out, it was Butler and Belinelli who stepped up when it mattered most.
Butler came in for Deng and scored 13 points, making several huge plays in overtime. It was exactly the type of performance his teammates knew he could handle and one that will surely give him confidence in the future.
"It was nice to know that my teammates have faith in me,” Butler said, “to give me the ball whenever I'm open and know that I can go down there and guard and come and back and score another basket. That's big for my confidence. To tell you the truth, in my head I was just like, 'Do what Lu does. Do what Lu does.”
That was a sound strategy ... and one Belinelli also perfected, just before game’s end. Like Deng did in Toronto on Wednesday night in overtime, Belinelli knocked down a jumper with a few seconds left in the extra period (which was significantly more difficult, considering he was falling down) that gave the Bulls a win.
Teammate Taj Gibson soaked Belinelli with a celebratory ice bath in the shower.
"If you make the game winner with this team, with the Chicago Bulls, it's a different feeling," the Italian guard said. "I feel like so happy right now."
The only damper on this night for the Bulls was the fact that Deng might be sidelined for a little while. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau will be heavily second-guessed for playing Deng -- who re-injured the hamstring he hurt Wednesday -- if Deng has to miss an extended amount of time. But the Bulls still have confidence they can win even if Deng joins Derrick Rose on the injured list.
"If that's the case then, yeah, we do," Boozer said, regarding the prospect of losing Deng. "Unfortunately for our team, we've been here before; this isn't something new for us. We've had important guys out -- whether it be Derrick, whether it be Lu, whether it be Jo, whether it was me a couple years ago. So we have belief in our team that we can keep playing and we can keep winning."
Rip is ready
Thibodeau has repeatedly held veteran guard Richard Hamilton to a strict limit of 15 to 20 minutes of playing time since he returned from injury last month. But he let that go Friday night when Deng got hurt, and Hamilton delivered. In 33 minutes of play, Hamilton scored 20 points.
"It's crazy because after the third quarter, usually I'm done," Hamilton said. "But with Luol going out I was like, 'Man, it's probably a chance [Thibodeau] would put me back in the game.’ And [assistant coach Adrian Griffin] came out to me in the fourth quarter, he was just like, 'Hey, man, stay ready because coach is going to put you back into the game.’ It was just one of them things. We didn't expect it going into the game, but with the circumstances, with Lu going out, he put me back in."
Hamilton is ready to play even more minutes if Thibodeau decides to keep going to him in the near future.
"I can," he said. "That ain't a problem. That's just something that Thibs wants to do. That's one of the things that he talked about when I first came back. He asked me and I was like, 'Yo, I can play. I'm good.' And he was like, 'I'm going to keep your minutes ... whatever, whatever.' I was just like, 'Hey, whatever he needs me to do, that's what I'm going to do.'"
The last word
Thibodeau, on whether a win on the road over a team like the Celtics can help the Bulls find the consistency they've been looking for:
"I think that's a media thing. I don't think any one game is any more important than another. I think you have to play tough on the road. I think you have to be physically tough, mentally tough, you've got to play smart. But then you can't be looking backwards; we can't be thinking about the Celtics when we're getting ready for Memphis. We have to know Memphis. When that ball goes up [Saturday] night, we got to be ready to go."