ORLANDOOver the course of their respective careers, the veteran starting backcourt of Kirk Hinrich and Rip Hamilton have seen it all. No longer in their individual primes, the veterans are still effective players, even when theyre not putting up gaudy scoring numbers.
Wednesday nights Bulls win was a prime example of that, as Hinrichs return to the lineup from a left-knee injury galvanized the team on both ends of the floor, while Hamilton, who jokingly said he had a John Stockton game, exceeded the minutes limit hed been restricted to since returning from a months absence and showcased his playmaking ability. More significantly, they made winning plays in a game where the Bulls needed it.
I thought Kirk battled the whole game, I thought he ran the team great, we had great shot distribution, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau explained. I thought Rip made a number of good plays, but our primary scorers got their shots.
The starting frontcourt of Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson combined for 75 points against the Magic, while Hamilton and Hinrich combined for 17 assists. Hinrichs value was obvious, as the Bulls seemed much less disjointed on offense and although Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson went for a game-high 32 points, Hinrich made him work all game, including when Nelson attempted a game-tying shot near the end.
Jameer was rolling. He had been hurt, but hes been shooting the ball really well for them, so if you give him any airspace right now, hes knocking that three in. Youve got to have the mental toughness to stay into him, Thibodeau said. Youve got to have toughness. Youve got to win games different ways.
Hinrich added: Didnt want him to get a three off, got up on him, took a dribble, shot-faked and just missed the shot.
Offensively, we were good tonight. Weve still got to get back to who we are, defense and rebounding. But I thought all night, we kind of had a good attitude, we stayed together, we tried to do the right things, he continued. We havent been playing well and weve got guys out, we knew we had to pick each other up tonight. We knew times in the game, things arent going to go well, but if things go our way sometimes or not, we knew it was super-important tonight to pick each other up and just stay the course.
Longtime teammate Luol Deng chimed in: Kirk is great. Plays hard, runs the team out thereyoure going to get your lookshes getting everyone in their spots, he just does a good job of just making sure that were getting good looks and executing, and everything.
Hinrich, who has had five separate injuries this season, experienced a scare when he slipped on a wet spot during the game, but said afterwards that he was fine.
Its been that kind of year for me, I guess. It seems like everywhere I go, somethings going to happen to me out there, he quipped. My knee felt much better tonight, so I was happy about that.
Hamilton has had injury issues of his own and while Thibodeau claimed hed only play the veteran 15 to 20 minutes a night as he returned from a torn plantar fascia, he broke his own promise by inserting the shooting guard into the game late, as the Bulls struggled offensively.
I know, right? I thought that I was actually done, but as the game was going, we couldnt score and he put me back in, and we went up by 10, but we gave it right back. It was just one of those things where I had to stay ready, said Hamilton, who noted that his foot felt fine. A lot of times when you play against teams, they try to take me away early and then, if Im making the right pass, they kind of switch it up. Tonight, they just stuck with it the whole night and it just made the game easier for my teammates. Booz had a great game, Taj had a great game, Lu and that was my goal tonight. Just saying, It might not be my night to score the ball, but if I can get those guys easy baskets to get a win, that would be great.
Thibodeau explained: I just liked the way he was playmaking. I felt we were really struggling to score, so I wanted to get him back on to the floor. But Im still very concerned about his minutes, so we have to watch that closely.