Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau explained it best: “Taj was just a monster.”
Gibson, the Bulls’ sixth man, bounced back from a subpar outing by his standards in Friday night’s loss at Indiana, of which he fouled out, with a 23-point, eight-rebound performance in Monday’s 89-77 win over the Pacers at the United Center. While he feigned ignorance about Pacers’ big men David West and All-Star center Roy Hibbert scoffing at his comments about Indiana being “floppers” during the visiting team’s morning shootaround, Gibson certainly played like he had a chip on his shoulder, going back to being irked at his disappointing play in Indianapolis.
“I didn’t like how I played the last game,” he explained. “Thibs tells me, ‘You’re getting a lot of teams’ attention now. They’re trying to take you out. You’ve got to be aggressive. This is another step in the development, in getting past these things,’ and I took advantage of it tonight. I was frustrated. I didn’t like how [Luis] Scola had 19, 20 points in 20 minutes. I really didn’t like that at all. I just wanted to come out, have a better showing on defense and the offense just came to me.
“It’s intense. Joakim was talking, Hibbert’s talking, a lot of stuff’s being said in the media. We try not to get involved with that, just play our games and tonight we played our game,” Gibson went on to say. “They were really dominating us the last game, especially on the glass and they were laughing. And it’s frustrating when you’re playing against a team and they’re similar to you, and they’re like your rival and they’re slapping fives, and laughing in your face. We take too much pride and playing our style of basketball.”
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Teammate Joakim Noah said he predicted that Gibson would rebound, both literally and figuratively, in Monday’s rematch.
“Every game is different, but I knew Taj wanted that game back and I said it right after the game,” the Bulls’ All-Star center said. “I was like, ‘I’m really excited about having the opportunity to see these guys again,’ and I think Taj played big for us. Like I said, every game is different, but he definitely came with a great mindset and set the tone for us tonight.”
Even Pacers head coach Frank Vogel was complimentary of Gibson.
“You’ve got to credit Taj Gibson for playing such a sensational game off the bench,” he said. “He was really the difference in the game.”
For Gibson, the win was meaningful for the Bulls, as Indiana is not only their divisional rival, but has many of the same goals, though he sees his team as having accomplished them first, nullifying the Pacers’ frequent bluster, while acknowledging the opposing squad’s superior record this season.
“We don’t really get into that. If you look at how we did in the last couple years, we basically did the same thing early in the years that they’re doing now and everybody’s at the same point, basically the same process right now: trying to get past Miami at the end of the day,” he said. “They’re the No. 1 seed in the East. They’re playing for the same thing as us, trying to get over the hump of just trying to make it deep in the playoffs and trying to get back to the Heat. We’ve got the same kind of mentality. It’s like looking at your twin. They’re having a great year right now and we’ve just got to learn from this and keep pushing.”