BOSTON -- Luol Deng looked how Luol Deng always looks after the Chicago Bulls' 88-79 win over the Boston Celtics on Friday night. He was slumped in his chair with his jersey untucked, exactly how you would think a man would appear after playing almost 43 minutes of basketball for the third time in four days. His feet sat at the bottom of a huge yellow tub of ice. His right ankle had an ice bag on it. So did his right knee. An empty bottle of Pedialyte sat on the edge of his locker.
He was exhausted.
But, yet again, Deng came through for the Bulls when they needed him the most. The veteran forward scored 21 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in the win, the third game in a row he's gone off for a double-double. While Derrick Rose deservedly garners most of the headlines and attention, it's Deng who continues to be the Bulls' most consistent player.
Just ask Rose.
"Lu is definitely going to make the All-Star team this year," Rose said. "If he don't, that would be cheating man. It would be cheating for sure."
That was the feeling throughout the Bulls' joyous locker room. Deng plays the role of underappreciated star to perfection behind Rose. He just goes out and does his job every night. And he does it very well.
"I'm not really worried about that," Deng said of the lack of attention. "That's the honest truth. I'm not really worried about whether people talk about me or not. I'm really happy I'm playing with a bunch of guys that love playing together. And it just makes me a better player. I'm just excited for every night. I can't even wait for [Saturday] to play again. And that's the kind of team we have."
While Deng never feels particularly comfortable talking about himself, it's clear that his teammates have no problem doing it for him. They know he is one of the biggest reasons why the Bulls are now 11-2.
"He's not overlooked by his coaches and his teammates," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We know how important he is to the team. And he does it night in, night out. Even the nights in which he doesn't shoot the ball well he still does so many things that help you win. He's done everything for us."
Of course, it wasn't just Deng’s offensive numbers that stood out to Thibodeau. The demanding head coach went out of his way to praise Deng for his defense on Boston star Paul Pierce. Pierce was just 3-for-12 on the night for 13 points because Deng did exactly what he was supposed to do. He didn't allow Pierce to have his way on the offensive end and it flustered the Celtics offense.
"He absolutely is [an All-Star]. Why not?" Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer said.
Boozer believes that Deng shouldn't be the only Bull heading to Orlando for the festivities.
"I remember one year the Pistons had like four guys in the All-Star Game," he continued. "Boston had like four guys on the All-Star [team]. I don't see why we couldn't have the same thing. We've got guys contributing all over the place. Luol is a lockdown defender. He did a great job on Paul Pierce today. Came up with like 18, 20 rebounds (16, actually) hits big shots for us and plays 40 minutes a night. I don't see why he wouldn't be."
As usual, Deng is taking it all in stride. He knows how grueling this season is, especially with all the minutes he's stringing together, but he's confident that all the hard work will pay off. After struggling to find a winning groove at times during his tenure in Chicago, Deng knows that the Bulls are on the verge of taking the next step in their championship progression.
"Experience is everything," he said. "We've learned a lot last year. I remember coming to this place and losing. Coming here and always being the underdog. But tonight we came in, we didn't feel like we were the underdog. Right now we feel like teams are coming at us so we had a lot of confidence coming in here."
No one has more confidence than Deng at the moment. No matter how minutes he plays, he perseveres and believes he will come out on top when it's all over.