Statistically, it was hardly a vintage night for Kirk Hinrich, who finished with two points on 1-for-7 shooting and three assists in 20 minutes of play Thursday in the Bulls’ 99-89 loss to Portland at the United Center.
But then again, Hinrich can never be accurately judged by the numbers.
Although Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard had the type of performance—24 points, seven assists—that will likely make him the league’s Rookie of the Year this season, Hinrich played tough defense and more importantly, made the Bulls’ offense flow better on occasion, as the team racked up 30 assists on the evening.
The veteran floor general wasn’t totally satisfied with his play, but after missing seven games with a stress reaction in his right foot, Hinrich was just happy to be back on the court.
“I didn’t like getting drummed like that, but I was happy with the way it felt and hopefully moving forward, it will just get better and better,” he said afterwards. “Right now it feels fine. I just got done icing it, doing the things I need to do. It’s feeling okay right now…I’m feeling all right. I felt fine. Obviously I didn’t make some shots, but they all felt good and I didn’t feel like I was really out of rhythm. I got a little bit winded there. I couldn’t do much, but individually, health-wise, I was encouraged.”
For Taj Gibson, who was sidelined for 10 straight contests with a left-knee sprain before returning to action Thursday, his night was a bit more simple to evaluate.
During his nearly 25 minutes on the floor, the Bulls’ top reserve had 14 points and nine rebounds in the loss and displayed his trademark energy on both ends of the floor.
While Gibson acknowledged that he’s not 100 percent, he understands that at this juncture of the campaign, when teams are jockeying for playoff positioning, sometimes players just have to gut it out and play through the pain.
“I felt good at times, but I just have to keep playing. It’s not going to be perfect—they told me there’s still going to be a little pain here and there—but it’s all about just pushing through that,” he said. “I understand it’s coming down to the wire and we’re going to need everybody. It’s not a time for me to be worrying about anything like that. They trust me to make the right decision. I just went out there and played, just knowing that it’s coming down to the wire. We’re battling for these spots. We’re trying to get hot late. It’s all about who’s the hot team late and who can progress as games go on.”
[Rose on return: 'Nobody knows but God]
Aside from the final result, Gibson and Hinrich were sights for sore eyes in the Bulls’ locker room.
“It’s a process. They’ve been out for a while. I think they both played great tonight. They both looked very good, energetic, gave us juice,” Carlos Boozer said. “It felt great to have Taj back out there, Kirk back out there. We’ll see if we can get some more guys back, but every game is a grind-out game right now.”
Joakim Noah added: “It was definitely good to have Kirk and Taj back. I feel like those guys always play really hard.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau gauged the play of Hinrich and Gibson with a bit more scrutiny.
“There’s some rust [with Hinrich]. Some good, some bad. It’s to be expected. I thought Taj got going a little bit. He started off slowly, but I thought he found his rhythm, so that was good,” he explained. “I knew there would be some rust, so that’s part of it. But there’s no getting around it. You’ve got to go through it.”
As for injured starting shooting guard Rip Hamilton, who’s been out with a back injury since the end of last month, Thibodeau didn’t shed much light on the situation before the game.
“Just let him work through his rehab. You’ll see what happens. As I said before, the back is something you’ve got to be careful, so you’ve just got to be patient,” the coach, who noted that the veteran is “being treated,” explained. “It’s not clearing up right now, so you’ll just have to wait.”
Of course, injured superstar Derrick Rose spoke on his own behalf after the Bulls’ morning shootaround at the Berto Center.