Augustin shines again for Bulls

TORONTO -- There is no doubt in Joakim Noah's mind just how important D.J. Augustin has been to the Chicago Bulls since signing in mid-December.

"It's changed everything," Noah said after the Bulls pulled out a 94-92 win over the Toronto Raptors. "It changed our team. We were really down in the dumps. D.J. came in and he's a great scoring punch for us. He makes easy offense for other guys. For me personally, I don't think I would have made an All-Star Game if it wasn't for D.J. He's a quiet guy, but he's a good dude, man. He's a good dude and he helps this ball club a lot."

Augustin proved that again Wednesday night, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter. For a guy who was waived by the Raptors earlier in the season, the win -- and the performance -- were admittedly a little sweeter. The confidence he has found with the Bulls is permeating throughout the locker room.

"I don't know what they were looking at," Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said of the Raptors' decision to waive Augustin, "but we picked up a gem. He's been playing as good as anybody in the league since he came to us, in my opinion. Big shot after big shot in the fourth. But honestly he's been doing that since he got here. As he got more comfortable with our system, more comfortable with each other, his teammates, he's been playing terrific."

Augustin has become the de-facto closer for a Bulls team that was in desperate need of one when Derrick Rose went down with a season-ending knee injury on Nov. 22. His teammates are actively searching him out down the stretch and he keeps delivering game after game.

"He's got a lot of courage," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Not afraid, can shoot the ball, and again I think when you get a team that's committed to playing for each other and playing to each other's strengths -- I think his teammates look for him, they know how to get him open. He's knows how to get open, very clever, and he's playing with a lot of confidence right now."

That's a sentiment that Noah and the rest of his teammates agree with. They appreciate that he has served as an engine for a team that was lost and going nowhere just a few short months ago.

"There's a lot of things that D.J. does well," Noah said. "If he gets an open look at any time that's good offense for us. We're trying to get good offense at the end of the game, usually pick-and-roll with D.J. at the end of the game is good offense."

For the soft-spoken Augustin, Wednesday's performance was simply more affirmation that he walked into the right situation at the right time in his career.

"Just being aggressive," Augustin said. "Thibs wants me to be aggressive. I play with great guys on the floor who find me for open shots and get me open on pick-and-rolls and we just play well as a team."

A team that now sits just a half game away from the 3-seed in the Eastern Conference playoff standings. In a season full of surprises, the fact that Augustin, who was left for dead by the Raptors, has now become the savior for the Bulls, is something that all his new teammates are embracing.

"D.J.'s been huge for us," Noah said. "And I know this was a big game for him, too. Being able to play in Toronto, the team that cut him, and play well like that and lead us to victory. That must be the best feeling in the world. Just prove your doubters wrong."