The way Taj Gibson played this season, he deserved much more than what he got Tuesday night.
The sixth man suffered a severely sprained ankle midway through the fourth quarter and then watched from the locker room as the Wizards' big men grabbed five offensive rebounds in the final two minutes to help run out the clock in their Game 5 victory that ended the Bulls' season. Gibson finished with 12 points and four rebounds, but the forward who had played so well late down the stretch and was one of two Bulls to play in all 82 games was forced out, similar to the ankle injury he suffered in Game 5 against the Philadelphia 76ers two seasons ago.
"I don't know what to think. It's like deja vu, happening the same kind of series when we played the 76ers," he said. "We needed to get a win, I sprained it, but unfortunately we didn't get the win. I'm pissed. No break (in the ankle), it's just real painful."
Gibson entered the United Center on the heels of a career-high 32 points in the Bulls' Game 4 loss. His impact was felt from the start, and his six points, two rebounds and two blocks in the second quarter helped the Bulls erase an eight-point deficit entering halftime. His key three-point play early in the fourth quarter cut the Wizards' lead -- which had grown to as many as nine in the third quarter -- to just four.
But minutes later he contested a John Wall floater in the lane and landed awkwardly on his ankle, sending him to the floor writhing in pain. He stayed on the floor for close to a minute before being helped to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his left leg as he left the court, and was limping noticeably after the game.
"Taj is been great for us all year, he’s been great for us all series," said Mike Dunleavy. "Not a good finish to a great season for him."
In his fifth NBA season, Gibson made the jump from role player to a standout post player, improving on his outside shot, becoming a stout defender in the paint and gaining a confidence that allowed Tom Thibodeau to play him a career-high 29 minutes per game. After the game Tom Thibodeau applauded the way Gibson performed during the year, noting his improvement individually.
"The one thing I was very pleased with, I thought there was tremendous growth by Joakim and Taj," Thibodeau said. "When you look at the bench it’s very unusual to get the type of scoring that we had from DJ (Augustin) and Taj coming off the bench. They’re guys that want to play, and they’re very professional and they play hard, and made the spirit of the team strong and that goes a long way and sometimes you guys don’t see that. But it’s critical for our team."
Those descriptors may yield Gibson some postseason hardware, as he's one of the leading candidates for Sixth Man of the Year. If he's able to join Joakim Noah, who won Defensive Player of the Year last week, he noted that the award would be a team accomplishment rather than an individual accolade.
"If I win it, God-willing if I do win it it’s not going to be my award, it’s going to be my team’s," he said. "It’s a team award because without my team I wouldn’t have done a lot of things I did. They push me every day in practice, they look for me on offense, we watch film together, we do everything together and it’s awlays motivating and it’s a team award. It’s not an individual award."