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Sam Smith: Childhood friends go head-to-head; the other injury in the series

One of the popular story lines of the Bulls/Celtics series is the matchup at power forward of Tyrus Thomas and Glen Davis, childhood friends from Baton Rouge, La. And everyone knows about KG's injury, but Chicago is without Luol Deng, the team's forgotten man in this marvelous late season run.


Sam Smith at Bulls.com

Childhood friends go head-to-head; the other injury in the series


The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Coverage: 2009 Bulls Playoff Central

Tyrus Thomas Thomas had 16 points, six rebounds and three blocks in the Bulls overtime win Saturday in Game 1 while Davis, starting for the injured Kevin Garnett, had 18 points and three rebounds.
(Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images)

One of the popular story lines of the Bulls/Celtics series was the matchup at power forward of the Bulls Tyrus Thomas and the Celtics Glen “Big Baby” Davis, childhood friends from Baton Rouge, La.

Thomas had 16 points, six rebounds and three blocks in the Bulls overtime win Saturday in Game 1 while Davis, starting for the injured Kevin Garnett, had 18 points and three rebounds. Though Thomas won the battle with six points in the overtime.

“It’s good for us to get this first one,” Thomas said after the game. “It takes a lot of pressure off us. The last time I played in the playoffs, my role wasn’t that big. We did a good job of stepping up. We just played. We’re the underdog so we have to answer challenges. We showed today we can do that. I don’t really care about pressure. It’s just basketball.”

Before the game, I asked Thomas about he and Davis.

“He’s one of my best friends,” said Thomas. “We talk like three times a week. He’s my brother. We’ve been hanging together since we were eight. We started playing at the same gym. Summers would be spent together. After that, it grew from there. We’ve (gone at one another on the court) all our lives. We both want to win. We’re both competitors. We’ll be friends after. He’s a good guy. When we’re together we both joke a lot. He’s more of a character than I am. He’s open with everybody. I’m not. The first day he meets somebody, he’s open.

“I was happy for him (when they won last year,” said Thomas. “I actually was at all (their) playoff home games, except in the Finals. He surprises people with his ability to move. He’s quicker than he seems. He’s always been a big guy. We’re both just trying to win now.”

The locker rooms are open for 45 minutes before the game, and after a few of us finished asking Thomas about Davis, a few more reporters wandered in and asked Thomas about Davis, it being about the fourth round of similar questions.

Hey, reporters don't have that many great ideas.

Thomas began to get annoyed and said, “Again? Can’t you guys read some of the articles.”

As for Davis, he was, as expected, happy and loose, telling reporters what songs were in his I-pod and how they affect his mood.

“I was always the guy telling him, ‘Hey, calm down, everything is going to be all right,’” recalled Davis. “We just knew about eachother. I first really got to know Tyrus when I was 10, 11 years old. I knew about him when I was eight. I heard a lot about him because we had the same friends.

“He’s one of the smartest guys I know,” said Davis. “Intellectually, he’s one of the smartest guys. Knowing random information. He just knows a lot about a lot of things. But he has a way. He can’t really tunnel his energy. Sometimes he has a lot of anger and he can’t tunnel it sometimes. So you might see him make a silly comment or do something crazy. That’s him not understanding how to tunnel his energy. When you see Tyrus get the hang of it he’s a wonderful person, generous, manners, a great guy to be around. It was tough for him (starting) in a hard nosed organization like that. But Tyrus had to become mature faster and that’s what you were seeing. Growing pains. Changing the way he did things to the new, improved guy he is now. He’s grown up.

“Tyrus was kind of a late bloomer,” said Davis. “He really started getting notoriety 12th grade when he was starting to go to college. I was more known, football, basketball. When Tyrus started playing and doing what he does he started getting really know. It’s great seeing two guys from a small town meeting like this in the playoffs.”

Boston without KG, but Chicago missing Deng

Yes, the Celtics miss Kevin Garnett, out for at least the first round, the Celtics insist. Without Garnett, the Bulls were able to penetrate easier in the Game 1 playoff win in Boston and stay with the shooters better instead of having to stunt toward Garnett in the lane. And Garnett could not watch, leaving the bench after halftime and watching the rest of the game from the locker room and leaving without speaking to reporters.

After the game, Celtics coach Doc Rivers became a bit annoyed with questions regarding Garnett.

“Guys, Kevin is not playing in this playoffs,” Rivers said when asked about Garnett not being on the bench in the second half. “I’m not answering Kevin Garnett questions. I didn’t even notice, honestly, until someone told me that he wasn’t on the bench and I could care less. You know, hell, he was on the bench in the first half and we were down eight points. So, you know, this is about the players in uniform. Kevin is gone. And he ain’t coming back. The guys in the uniform have to play.”

The same with the Bulls, who had injured Luol Deng sitting on the bench.

Long a starter and destined to defend Paul Pierce if he were healthy, Deng has become the Bulls forgotten man in this marvelous late season run and opening playoff victory.

Deng talked about it before Saturday’s Game 1.

“It’s tough,” said Deng, out for at least the first round with a stress fracture. “I really can’t do anything but talk to the guys about what I really know and be the best cheerleader on the side. I wouldn’t say (I’m) depressed. I’ve been through a lot of things tougher than this, but it’s definitely tough knowing this is your job and what you do and you feel like you can help the guys.

“With a team like Boston I feel I can help,” Deng said. “My goal was to play 10 or 15 minutes (in the first round of the playoffs). But we realized that would be a risk of maybe leading to surgery or something and we didn’t want to spend a whole summer putting a rod on my leg (Deng says at this point he doesn’t expect to need surgery). Three days ago I took an MRI and it showed the fracture was healing. Not all of it closed up. Half of it. It’s leading in the right direction. With these kinds of things it could be a month or longer. I could be OK in two weeks. I’ve just got to keep treating it and try to play the next round if I’m capable of playing and (we make it). I haven’t been on the floor since the injury. Everytime I try to go on the floor I have a setback. I haven’t even shot the ball since the injury.

“It’s been a tough year, physically, mentally, but hopefully I’ll be better in the long run,” said Deng. “It’s hard. I still go to practice, listen in, everything I would be doing. This is tougher than (my rookie year missing the playoffs). You’re a rookie. I wasn’t playing that much. Now that you’ve become a big part of the team and been through the playoffs and you know what it takes, it’s hard but you cannot do anything. You know how exciting it is in the playoffs, not just for the fans but for the players.

“When I saw John (Salmons) got hurt, the next day I got on the court and started shooting, really tried to give it a go,” said Deng. “Jogged a little. The next day I had a huge setback. It set me back a little longer. It doesn’t help to keep saying, ‘He’s injured, he’s not playing. What could the team do? Maybe the team is better with him injured? Maybe the team would be better if he is playing.’ There are a lot of things that have been said. I’m hurt. I’m not playing. It’s all about how you bounce back. It could defeat you or use it as a motivation.

“I think what hurt me the most this year when I got hurt some articles came out saying, ‘How tough is he?’ and ‘He doesn’t want to play.’ To me it’s unbelievable hearing stuff like that because this is what I do. I’m here because of basketball. Why would I not want to play? Sometimes people take struggling on the court to an extreme level,” said Deng. “I know there’s a lot tougher things. I don’t mind someone saying I’m not good enough. It hurts more when someone says you’re faking an injury. Which didn’t make sense to me. I just knew in the long run people would understand. I never had a fracture (like this) and never knew what it could lead to. I didn’t know fractures that start small can get worse. I kept complaining for a month about shin splints. It didn’t go away. It just got worse and I realized if I kept playing it would get worse. If it were something where I could play today and the pain today were the same as tomorrow I would (play). But with this injury if I play today tomorrow I’ll be worse.”