(MCT) — TORONTO — There’s a reason coach Tom Thibodeau considers Luol Deng his rock.
It’s for moments like Wednesday night, when Deng gutted out close to 48 minutes despite tweaking his right hamstring to sink a game-winning jumper with 3.3 seconds left in overtime to lift the Bulls to a 107-105 victory over the Raptors at Air Canada Centre.
Throw in Carlos Boozer’s season-high 36 points and Eastern Conference-leading 21st double-double and the Bulls overcame their late collapse to improve to 11-5 on the road.
Deng finished with 19 points, seven assists and six rebounds, beating Landry Fields off the dribble and calmly dropping in a 18-footer for the go-ahead points. Jose Calderon’s good look on a game-winning 3-pointer rimmed just long.
“He told me before he hit the shot, ‘Let’s go home,’” Noah said. “His swag is crazy.”
Deng has added clutch player to an already impressive resume.
“It’s just maturing and I’ve been in the league for awhile,” Deng said. “I know what I can and can’t do. When it comes to the last minutes, I’m not as nervous or worried about what I’m going to do. There are a few things I do well and I stick to them. I just stick to my game, never get out of my character.”
The Bulls, who improved to 2-0 in overtime, played the extra session without Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson, who fouled out in the fourth.
The Bulls were cruising along with a 19-point, third-quarter lead after Richard Hamilton got hot. He scored 13 of his 15 points in the period, including 11 straight to push the Bulls ahead 76-57 with 4:28 left.
But the Raptors, sparked by their bench and relentless offensive rebounding, closed the quarter with a 16-3 run as the Bulls missed six straight shots. Despite Hamilton’s roll, he sat for the final 20:06.
“Rip was terrific,” Thibodeau said. “I thought about (bringing him back). But I’m watching his minutes.”
The Bulls pushed their lead back to 10 early in the fourth but the Raptors kept attacking the offensive boards to rally. Fittingly, Amir Johnson beat Gibson to rebound Kyle Lowry’s miss with 12.1 seconds left in regulation, fouling Gibson out. But Johnson merely split the free throws to tie the game.
The Bulls’ final possession in regulation produced a wild fallaway from Marco Belinelli that missed badly after a screen-and-roll opportunity with Boozer never materialized.
Alan Anderson’s 27 points and 26 points from Lowry led a dominant bench effort for the Raptors.
Boozer got the Bulls off to a strong start, scoring 17 points in the first quarter and 25 by halftime. His output fell just five points shy of his career-high and marked his highest-scoring game as a Bull.
“He’s carrying us right now, especially early,” Deng said. “We’re going to keep looking for him. That’s one of his best games.”
Deng said he slightly pulled his hamstring in the first quarter and hopes it’s not serious. His game-winner was as serious as they come.