With 6:47 left in Thursday night’s 94-82 Bulls’ win over the Celtics at the United Center, Taj Gibson went up for one of his thunderous two-handed dunks and was taken out of the air by second-year Boston big man Jared Sullinger.
Although Gibson somehow finished the play, it was a hard spill, enough to draw the concern of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau — the coach went to the court to check on his prized pupil, who was already surrounded by teammates — but after a few tense moments, the team’s top reserve got to his feet and shot the two free throws he was awarded due to Sullinger being assessed a flagrant foul. Still, for a team wracked by injuries all season, it was a time to hold one’s breath, though Gibson found humor in it later.
“Part of the game, I guess,” Gibson said. “I don’t even remember the play. All I remember was going up with two [hands] and then everything just went to black. I just saw Thibs, everybody standing on top of me, laughing.
“Everybody was just like, ‘Stay down. Ten count,’” he continued, growing more animated as he recounted the episode. “Going up, my eyes just got open. Whenever I see the rim and I’m close to above it, I just think about dunking it, just getting a quick score. Just going up strong, like Thibs tells me. Thibs just told me — every day over the summer, every day in practice — ‘go up with two [hands], stop trying to dunk it with one. Go up with two.’
“So I went up with two and I didn’t really see him, he just wiped me out and I didn’t even really look at the play. I was just trying to brace myself for the fall and I’m lucky because the basketball gods were on my side. It could have been worse. I fell on my wrist and my elbow, and I just laid there.”
Gibson was no worse for the wear afterwards, as was the case for teammate Luol Deng, two games into his return after missing five consecutive games with a recurrence of his left Achilles’ injury. The All-Star small forward, the league’s back-to-back minutes per game leader, played just 28 minutes and 38 seconds, after playing 33 minutes in the Bulls’ New Year’s Eve home loss to Toronto, both below his usual totals.
“It’ll probably go up maybe next game, I don’t know,” Deng, who scored 16 points, said of his minutes, before discussing the injury itself. “It felt better today. I felt better today than I felt last game, so that’s definitely a positive. So we’ll probably see tomorrow, how it feels tomorrow and just see, go day-to-day.”
Thibodeau confirmed that Deng’s minutes indeed were limited and perhaps slipped up in mentioning that another Bulls player was also restricted.
“We’re dealing with some minutes restrictions, things of that nature,” the coach said, later being asked exactly who else was under limitations. “I’d rather not say.”