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I owe Luol Deng an apology. I was not a fan of Luol prior to this season. In fact, if we’re being honest, I disliked Luol Deng. I called him “soft” on multiple occasions, and I believed it. I thought he was another overpaid player like Ben Gordon and Eddie Robinson. I thought all he wanted to do was hang out in the corner and let someone else do all the work of driving, drawing in the defense, and kicking out to him for a 3-point shot. I always saw potential in his ability to slash to the lane and wanted him to do it more often.

All of that has changed this season. Luol Deng has won me over. It was a slow process at first. When he started fast I was hesitant to give him too much credit. Hell, even at the end of the regular season I think I gave him a B+ grade. I was wrong. Clearly he has deserved an A. He was our player of the game last night and that has been the case several times this season.

He has been so huge for us this season. He has hit several big shots. He hasn’t relied too heavily on the 3-point shot like I thought he had done earlier in his career (only 29% of his shots this season have been 3-point attempts.) He has done a great job with his shot selection. When the 3 is there, he takes it, but he’s not afraid to put his head down and attack the rim either. He has shed the soft label in my eyes too. He sticks his nose in there and grabs about 6 rebounds again, he guards each team’s best scorer on a nightly basis and does a great job of it, he fired up the crowd late in Game 1 against Indiana which perhaps ignited the huge comeback, and he came back from a vicious elbow to the back of the head in Game 3 against Indiana like it was no big deal. He’s not soft.

Also, he never comes out of the game. He average 39 minutes per game this year, leading the team. In years past he seemed injury prone, and I was waiting for it this year, but it hasn’t happened. When we finally got Boozer and Noah back and healthy, I was convinced it would be Luol’s turn to miss some games. But it hasn’t happened. He has stayed healthy all season long, playing hard every night and playing just about the entire game night after night. The statistics have been good (17.4 PPG, 46% FG, 5.80 RPG) but they don’t tell the whole story. His defense has been absolutely huge and the fact that he has shown up every night has been even bigger. He was amazing last night, and we’re going to need more of that if we’re going to win the series. Keep it going, Luol!