Derrick Rose might not be able to make on-court contributions to the Bulls these days, but according to sixth man Taj Gibson, the former league MVP is still providing his team with a lift, even while sidelined.
Gibson said that Rose, on the bench in street clothes, not only insisted that the Bulls would climb out of their 18-point hole Friday night against the Pistons at the United Center, but the 106-98 win, in the big man’s opinion, was reminiscent of the last season when Rose was fully healthy.
“To be honest with you, Derrick sits next to me during these games and he was like, ‘In four minutes, this thing can change,’ and I was just listening to him. It kind of reminded me of how we used to play the year we had Derrick and we went to the Eastern Conference Finals. No matter how much we got down, at the end of the game, we knew that we had a chance to win and the guys kept believing. I felt that in the fourth quarter, really, and guys didn’t shy away and we just kept pushing forward,” Gibson recounted. “It was right, dead on. At the 12-minute mark, we were still down a bunch, but he was like, ‘Just give it four minutes, six minutes,’ and a couple minutes later, we were right in the thick of things.
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“Our starters did a good job in the third, really. They kind of set the tone, came out with a lot of energy. Carlos was playing phenomenal and ‘Dun’—Mike [Dunleavy]—was hitting a lot of big threes for us. But come fourth quarter, we just picked it up a notch, tried to limit second-chance shots, contest a lot of shots. But the energy was just there in the fourth and D.J. did a phenomenal job, like he always does.”
Gibson himself played a major role in the comeback victory, finishing above the rim with authority and swatting away Detroit shot attempts.
“I was just trying to attack the basket. Sometimes when your layups or your jump shots don’t work, you’ve just got to try to attack the basket,” he explained. “I just tried to make plays on the ball, especially rebounding—I didn’t have a strong rebounding night—and it just came to me. I kept being aggressive and that’s what we’re going to need in the fourth.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said Gibson’s play and that of his other primary reserve, backup point guard D.J. Augustin, were typical of their performance all season.
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When you make effort plays like that—and those were big-time multiple-effort plays: blocked shots, the offensive rebounding in traffic, range from one side to the other to get it, finishing—that does nothing but inspire your team and that sort of ignited us. D.J. got going,” the coach explained. “Probably our two most efficient scorers—well, they are—are D.J. and Taj. So it’s not a surprise and it leads to a lot of other things. D.J. has the ability to make everyone else a lot better and then Kirk, I thought, was very good. I thought his aggressiveness on the ball was a big plus for us. Jimmy started slowly and kept working the game, and made big plays down the stretch for us. So you’re not going to knock out people in the first round. You’ve got to be ready to keep going and you have to have the ability to take a punch in this league. We did and as I said, the most important thing was finding a way to win.”
“Obviously the fourth quarter’s a lot different, in terms of intensity and so, your decisions have to be quicker. They have to be sound. You have to know that the help will be coming quicker, so your spacing’s critical. You have to make the right reads and I think our guys are doing that. When the second defender’s coming, they’re moving the ball quickly. We’re making the second pass. Oftentimes, that’s not the assist, but the ball movement is great and the player movement has been terrific, so guys, they’re finishing their cutting, cutting hard to the basket and sharing the ball. Every night, it’s someone different. We don’t know who will have the hot hand or the good matchup and sometimes when you’re taking the right shots, it leads to other things that are good. It forces help. That’s how Taj got his offensive rebounds. That stuff is critical.”
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Augustin, whose usual blend of playmaking and scoring was again at a high level, agreed with the general sentiment that the Bulls’ resiliency is what allowed them to triumph, despite their big first-half deficit.
“We don’t want to hang our heads because the game’s not over, as you saw. Just keep fighting and stay focused, anything can happen. So that’s the main thing we did at halftime, was just picked our heads up. Don’t hang our heads, stay with it,” he explained. “Our offense is always there. First half, we just weren’t making shots. We got good shots, but they just weren’t going. So our defense is what we need to win and we try to focus on that every game.
“Just our energy. We picked it up. In the first half, we didn’t have the same energy, so we just came in the second half and picked it up on defense and offense, and just played hard,” the floor general went on to say. “We kind of want to start the game with that intensity, but it’s not always there. We play 82 games a season, so we just want to play hard at every chance we get, every second and anything can happen.”