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Gibson scores career-high 26 points as Bulls top Deng-led Cavs

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Updated: January 22, 2014 10:52PM



CLEVELAND – Luol Deng now has half a season left to teach a team full of perceived selfish underachievers how to play team basketball with the hope of trying to crawl into the playoffs.

The Bulls have a half of season left to keep the naysayers shaking their heads.

Tank? Tank this.

It became obvious on Wednesday night that Deng has a much tougher task at hand.

Thanks to a career-high 26 points from Taj Gibson, as well as D.J. Augustin leading the way with 27 points, the emotional reunion for the Bulls and their former teammate ended in a 98-87 Bulls win in which they dominated in crunchtime.

“I’ve never been through something like that before,’’ Deng said afterwards. “It was strange. But it’s the Cavs versus the Bulls, it’s not so much about me. We could have played better.’’

No, it was about Deng. The last few days leading up to the game at the Quicken Loans Arena were all about Deng.

Traded to Cleveland at the start of the month when he walked away from a final take-it-or-leave-it offer from the Bulls, Deng’s departure was supposed to be the downfall of a franchise that had already lost Derrick Rose (right knee) for the season, and was basically giving away their free agent-to-be for draft picks.

All the Bulls (21-10) have done since the trade was go 7-2, while the Cavs are 3-4 with Deng.

And while there were hugs and handshakes at the start of his first game against his former team, at the end of the night Deng was 2-for-11 with 11 points and the loss.

“Not really,’’ Deng said, when asked if he was forcing things because of the emotion. “If I was forcing things than I would have shot 30 shots. I tried to really play the game within myself. They played really good defense, I missed some shots. I’m not happy with my performance, that’s a good defensive team, but we just got to keep growing.

“We’ve got a lot of stuff to work on as a team. I really believe we can get there. We just have to lock in. But in terms of me, I could have played better. No matter what, it hurts, but it would have hurt less if we got the win, even if I shot the way I shot or played the way I played.’’

A bigger slap than just the loss had to be that it again came when the Bulls were short-handed. No Kirk Hinrich (right hamstring) and no Carlos Boozer (left calf). Next man up, and they did just that.

Especially Gibson, who continued to make an argument for being the best sixth man in the league.

“It felt weird because it was tension even before the game,’’ Gibson said. “We wasn’t talking or nothing. It was exactly like how Thibs [coach Tom Thibodeau] said: We love him but we’re going to go knock him on his butt when he tries to score. After the game, we can be friends.’’

Note: According to ESPN, Rose will be among the names of the 28-player pool for USA Basketball, despite the injury.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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