Judge Kirk Hinrich by his relatively pedestrian numbers at your own peril.
The veteran point guard had seven points on 3-for-10 shooting, six assists and five rebounds in Wednesday night’s 101-97 Bulls win over Miami at the United Center, but he was arguably one of the most important players on the court.
From his first-half open-field tackle of runaway freight train LeBron James on a fast break— “I still feel like I got the worst of it obviously,” he said of his takedown, which drew a huge ovation from the sellout crowd—to his late-game armed robbery of Heat All-Star big man Chris Bosh, Hinrich made the subtle, hard-nosed plays that typified the Bulls’ triumphant victory.
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“We talk about that as a team, to have the edge, to make winning-type plays and right now, I feel like that’s kind of my role,” Hinrich explained in his understated fashion, as if talking to the media, and particularly about himself, is like having a root canal performed with no anesthesia. “Run the team, make winning plays and try to make as many shots down as I can.”
But as reluctant as Hinrich might be to discuss his contributions, others are more than willing to do the talking for him.
“I don’t know if a lot of people see it, but I love playing with Kirk. I think every time Kirk plays, I’m in a better rhythm, I feel a lot better,” said Luol Deng, his former and current teammate. “Kirk just really tries to win and a lot of times, if you know the game of basketball, you see the little plays he does and unfortunately, the game we play today, everyone wants the stats and the highlights, but people who know the game really know that when Kirk is hurt, we struggle as a team, so he’s a big part. We’ve had a lot of guys out and we’re able to win, but every time Kirk is not there, we struggle.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has constantly touted the benefits of Hinrich, who’s been frequently injured with a variety of ailments, being in the lineup this season.
He had a concrete example to point to Wednesday: Hinrich’s strip on Bosh, which helped salt away the victory.
“I think we’ve played them 15 times and more often not, it comes down to that,” Thibodeau said of the play. “A loose ball, a hustle play. That’s usually the difference.”
Teammate Jimmy Butler was more effusive about it.
“Huge,” he said. “That’s Kirk, though. Tough guy. It’s plays like that, that get you going. Little guy like that, taking the ball from Chris Bosh. That’s major and I think key plays like that, loose balls, that’s why we came up with the win.”
Hinrich, as one would expect, downplayed the significance, another reason he and Thibodeau have clicked in their first year together.
“Oh, I don’t know. I suppose,” he said when asked how big the play was for the Bulls. “It was just one of those things where I saw an opportunity where he was coming down with the rebound, didn’t see me and I was able to get my hands on the ball, and get it away from him, so that’s just the kind of fight we have to have to win games, especially when we’re short-handed.”
Exactly the type of response one would expect from a player who always puts the team before himself and occasionally, his physical well-being.