CLEVELAND -- When you spend close to a decade with a franchise, friendships form. A trade doesn't break those bonds.
So, yes, Luol Deng went to dinner with former teammates Tuesday night. And then, just before the Bulls' 98-87 victory over the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena, Deng jogged over to hug coach Tom Thibodeau and assistant coach Adrian Griffin and shake hands with the rest of the Bulls' staff.
Some things never change.
"I had the NBA app and my home team was the Bulls and I've been trying to change it but I don't know how," Deng laughingly told reporters at the morning shootaround. "It's really annoying when you get updates of the Bulls. I'm trying to change getting all these Joakim Noah double-double updates."
Deng almost received one in person Wednesday as Noah finished with nine points, six assists and 18 rebounds. That's Noah's 14th straight double-digit rebounding game, the franchise's longest streak since Dennis Rodman had 43 straight in 1996-97.
The Bulls reached midseason on pace for 42 victories, cracking the .500 barrier with their third straight victory and ninth in 11 games. They did so behind Taj Gibson's career-high-tying 26 points, a second straight 27-point effort from D.J. Augustin, clutch 3-point shooting from Augustin and Mike Dunleavy and rock-solid defense on Deng.
The fourth-leading scorer in Bulls' franchise history managed just 11 points on 2-for-11 shooting in close to 40 minutes.
"I said I wasn't going to be emotional but when I went over to hug Thibs, that's when it hit me a little bit," Deng said.
Good-natured trash talking occurred throughout.
"It felt weird because there was tension. We weren't talking or anything," Gibson said. "It was exactly like how Thibs 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.
"I felt like everybody did a good job forcing him to his weak points. I switched on him and was like, 'Lu, I know every move you want to do. I know you want to pump fake and make me jump in the air.'"
Gibson started for an injured Carlos Boozer and knocked down 11 of 15 shots in close to 43 minutes. Dunleavy and Augustin combined to go 9-for-13 from beyond the arc. The Bulls held the Cavaliers to 37.5 percent shooting.
"I'm not happy with my performance," Deng said. "But that's a good defensive team."
Deng's underwhelming game capped a reflective 24 hours that started with his dinner with Noah and Nazr Mohammed -- Deng paid -- and continued with trips down memory lane.
Deng said his best memories were the 2010-11 season, playing under Thibodeau and making the All-Star game in 2012 for the first time. That's also when Deng unveiled a black T-shirt honoring Africa underneath his league-issued warm-ups.
"I had the opportunity to have a great season and be in a position to uplift and let people know where I'm from and put Africa on the map," Deng said.
Deng said his low point came when people questioned his tibia stress fracture that kept him out of the 2009 playoffs.
The appreciation for what Deng meant to the club after 637 career games flowed fast and furious.
"When he first arrived, they were basically in the lottery every year," Thibodeau said. "So that group lifted that team out of that. And then with us he took us to another level. The one thing I liked about him was you could count on him every game."
Thibodeau also appreciated Deng's leadership.
"A lot of guys say all the right things and do none of them," Thibodeau said. "He was the opposite. When he spoke, people listened because he didn't just talk to talk."
And now, with this being the last meeting this season, it's the Bulls' turn to talk all offseason.
"It feels good to be one up on Lu," Gibson said.
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