Deng a non-factor as Bulls beat Cavaliers
CLEVELAND (AP) Luol Deng misses his close friends in Chicago. The Bulls seem to be getting along fine without him.
D.J. Augustin scored 27 points in a start for Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson matched a career high with 26 filling in for Carlos Boozer as the Bulls improved to 7-2 since trading the popular Deng with a 98-87 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night.
Augustin and Mike Dunleavy hit 3-pointers down the stretch to pace the Bulls, who have won three straight, nine of 11 and moved over .500 for the first time since Nov. 22.
Chicago reached the season’s mid-point at 21-20, not where many expected the Bulls to be sitting after dealing Deng.
The two-time All-Star was a non-factor in his first game against his former team, which traded him for draft picks on Jan. 6. Deng went just 2 of 11 from the field and scored 11 points in 40 minutes.
”It was strange,” Deng said. ”It’s the Cavs versus the Bulls and not so much about me. In terms of me, I could have played better.”
Joakim Noah had 18 rebounds for the Bulls, who appeared to be looking toward the future when they traded Deng, not long after losing superstar Derrick Rose to a season-ending injury.
But the Bulls aren’t fading away as coach Tom Thibodeau has them playing with their usual defensive tenacity.
Deng’s not around, but the Bulls remain as tough as always.
”It’s one of the things I respect about our team,” Thibodeau said. ”They respond to every challenge. They have a lot of heart. They’re playing together. Each day they have the right approach. If someone’s out, the next five get in there and get the job done. We’re short-handed. We understand how hard we have to play to give ourselves a chance to win.”
Kyrie Irving scored 26 to lead Cleveland, which has dropped the first two games of a five-game homestand. The Cavs have lost all of their momentum after going 3-2 on the road.
”We’re not making any excuses here,” Irving said. ”We’ve got to pick it up.”
Although they were missing two starters in Boozer (calf) and Hinrich (hamstring), the Bulls had more than enough to hold off the Cavaliers.
Making just his fourth start, Gibson scored 12 in the third as the Bulls opened a 71-62 lead entering the fourth.
Dunleavy’s 3-pointer extended Chicago’s lead to 12 in the opening minute of the final quarter, but the Cavs fought back behind Dion Waiters and pulled to 84-81 on his 3. However, Dunleavy scored again, Noah made a layup and Augustin buried a 3-pointer to give the Bulls a 91-81 lead.
The Cavs were still within 93-87 when Dunleavy knocked down another 3-pointer with 38 seconds left to seal Chicago’s win.
Dunleavy added 22 points for the Bulls, who got just four points from their bench.
Waiters had 15 for Cleveland.
Deng spent 10 seasons with the Bulls, and the 28-year-old knew it would be challenging to oppose his ex-teammates.
”It’s definitely going to be weird because it’s guys I’m really close with and it feels like just yesterday I was going to battle with them and now I’m going against them,” he said at the morning shootaround.
Following the game, Deng acknowledged it was difficult to face players he knows so well.
”I tried to really play the game within myself,” he said. ”They played good D. I missed shots. I’m not happy with my performance. That’s a good defensive team. We’ve just got to keep growing.”
Before the opening tip, Deng ran over to Chicago’s bench and hugged Thibodeau and shook hands with all of the team’s assistant coaches.
”It says a lot about who he is,” Thibodeau said. ”That didn’t surprise me.”
Gibson said there were some awkward moments going against Deng.
”It felt weird,” Gibson said. ”There was tension before the game because we weren’t talking. It’s like Tibs said, `We love him but we’re going to go knock him on his butt if he tries to score. After the game, we’re going to be friends.”’
Outworked by a depleted Chicago team, the Cavs fell behind by 10 early in the second quarter and were down 35-29 when Irving heated up.
He made five consecutive 3-pointers in the final 5:45 of the second quarter to give the Cavs a 44-43 lead at halftime.
NOTES: Deng spent nearly 20 minutes after the shootaround discussing his days in Chicago, which ended shortly after he rejected a three-year, $30 million contract extension, an offer and pay cut that he and his agents didn’t find adequate. Asked if he would consider returning to the Bulls as a free agent this summer, Deng took a swipe at Chicago’s front office. ”Maybe they’ll offer me three years, $30 million,” he cracked. ”That might be an option to take.” … Noah has recorded at least 10 rebounds in 14 straight games, the longest stretch in franchise history since Dennis Rodman posted 43 straight in `97.