Gibson, Boozer rise to the occasion

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Gibson, Boozer rise to the occasion

ORLANDOIts admittedly been an up-and-down season for Taj Gibson, whose dealt with a lingering ankle injury, his own inconsistent play and a contract extension right at the deadline, coinciding with the beginning of the campaign. For Carlos Boozer, hes almost been a forgotten man, even on a team without Derrick Rose, unless fans are vilifying him for an off night.

Wednesday evening at the Amway Center, however, the power-forward duo took center stage, as both had season-best performances in the absence of starting center Joakim Noah.

Each big man was a force on the glass, while Boozers dominant scoring throughout the contest and Gibsons defensive play and overall high activity level were major reasons the Bulls held on for a 96-94 win over the Magic.

Huge, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau gushed about Gibson, who started in place of Noahwho was sidelined with flu-like symptomsand scored a season-high 21 points, to go along with 11 rebounds, four blocked shots and three assists in 45 minutes of action, during which he played center for the majority of the night, but also showcased his versatility by defending the likes of perimeter-oriented Hedo Turkoglu.

Played big minutes, battled, played the five all night, just did a great job in all areas: Blocked shots, rebounding, scoring, executing, played a great game. Hes been playing very well as of late, too. Hes starting to get into a pretty good rhythm.

Teammate Kirk Hinrich added: He was big. He came in and you know Taj, what he can do. Hes very good. He just took advantage of the opportunity. When you have guys go down, you have guys step up. When a guys capable of doing that and Taj is, hes an everyday guy. You know you can count on him to do his job.

Luol Deng, who had 23 points of his own, including two free throws to seal the deal with 4.2 seconds remaining: Guys in the NBA can play, man. Taj probably saw an opportunity tonight and played well. We know how good Taj is and we definitely miss Jo, and last game, we lost when he was sick. Hes huge for us, but Taj did a good job of stepping in and making really big plays tonight, and guarding a guy that just came off 29 rebounds. The guy still had 12 rebounds, but I thought Taj did a good job of keeping him off the boards.

That guy was second-year Magic big man Nikola Vucevic, coincidentally Gibsons former college teammate at USC. Gibson was a junior when Vucevic was a freshman, but Orlando center, the son of a European pro, credits the Brooklyn native for his adjustment to basketball in the U.S.

Taj and I are good friends, Vucevic told reporters. I was 17 when I first came to USC.

He helped me a whole lot, especially on the court, he continued. After practice, we used to play one-on-one.

Gibson remembers things a bit differently and after Vucevics monster night against the defending-champion Heat on New Years Eveeclipsing the likes of Shaquille ONeal and Dwight Howard in the Magic record bookshe was ready to face his former protg.

Thats one thing about him: Hes a great rebounder. Ever since he came into USC as a freshman, I just knew he was a great rebounder. I just tried to frustrate him in the first half, tired to take him away from the rebounding aspect. But hes a phenomenal player and Im just happy we got a win, he said. Gibson and Vucevic battled every day. Because he was the one trying to take my starting role. Thats what Coach Tim Floyd always pushed him to try to do and he always pushed me to try to defend it, and it worked out the right way because hes playing phenomenal for that team.

Guys in the NBA can play, man. Taj probably saw an opportunity tonight and played well. We know how good Taj is and we definitely miss Jo, and last game, we lost when he was sick. Hes huge for us, but Taj did a good job of stepping in and making really big plays tonight, and guarding a guy that just came off 29 rebounds. The guy still had 12 rebounds, but I thought Taj did a good job of keeping him off the boards.

Same approach as every game. Just be ready, step up, help any way I can and Thibs just told me that he was starting for Noah this morning at shootaround, and I just happened to prepare the right way, focus on who I was going to guard and try to frustrate him, and thats what I did, Gibson went on to say.

It was big because were down a lot of guys. You look at our team, weve got a lot of guys banged up. Even at the shootaround, looked aroundit was toughbut weve just got to come together as a whole, take every game one at a time. But the way we just got done in the second half, especially in the final quarter, it just speaks volumes because I thought Jameer Nelson, the Magics point guard, who scored a game-high 32 points was going to make that layup. I was just being active when he blocked the shot with 11.3 seconds remaining and just trying to talk to my point guard, and help him any way that I can.

Im starting to feel way better. My ankle is feeling much better, Ive been getting a lot of treatment on it and Im just feeling real active again. Dealing with this ankle injury, it was nagging me, but I feel a lot better today.

Thibodeau even suggested that he could use the Boozer and Gibson in tandem, as he did on occasion last season: Gibson did it played center at the end of last year and so, at the end of last year, he and Carlos played extremely well together at times and it was something I was hoping we could get to this year, and Im hopeful that can happen now.

As for Boozer, while the much-maligned player doesnt speak much about himself when talking to the media these days, preferring to deflect attention to his teammates, his game did the talking Wednesday. He scored a team-high 31 points, as well as 11 rebounds, but more importantly, he carried the Bulls in the early going and then didnt disappear as time went on, pulling the team through several stretches.

I thought Carlos was terrific. That set the tone for us. He had a huge first quarter, Thibodeau said. We were searching him out and he got going early, so I thought we recognized that. Rip recognized that, Kirk recognized that. When Kirk is running the team, thats usually what happens. He usually gets 15 to 17 shotsyou can put that in the bookand if he gets his shots, hes going to score. Hes shown that throughout his career.

Deng concurred with his coachs opinion: Booz was huge. He hit some big shots, he got us going early, we kept going to him and Rip did a good job of finding him, and Booz was making his shots.

Hinrich added: We go to Carlos all the time early. Hes one of the guys we count on to go down there and make plays for us, and he had it going tonight.

Boozer certainly benefited from Hinrichs return to the lineup, as well as Hamiltons playmakingthe veteran starting backcourt combined for 17 assistsbut that didnt account for all of his production. Still, he refused to take credit for raising his level of play, perhaps knowing that among his detractors, hes damned if he does and damned if he doesnt.

Were down, weve been short-handed all season, but this game we had without Joakim. But I thought Taj had a monster game, man, he said. We had guys step up left and right. Luol was normal with his All-Star performance and we just did a good job at the end of being resilient.

Boozer might not acknowledge what he did Wednesday, but his teammates and coaches know and within the Bulls small circle, thats all that matters. That, and like Gibson also did, embodying Thibodeaus next man up mantra by rising to the occasion with the odds against them,

Dwyane Wade's near-miss of a triple-double caused by friendly Felicio fire

Dwyane Wade's near-miss of a triple-double caused by friendly Felicio fire

In a season where the triple-double has become commonplace to the point of stat chasing in the effort to chase history, Dwyane Wade didn't mind snatching his own piece of turf.

In a game where teammate Jimmy Butler reached the feat for the first time this season, it would've been doubly satisfactory for Wade to achieve the fifth triple-double of his career.

One rebound away in the final seconds of the Bulls' 117-99 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the memo didn't reach Cristiano Felicio, who reached over Wade to grab a rebound, causing it to harmlessly fall out of bounds and ending Wade's chance at history.

After Wade finished with 20 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds in 34 minutes, he was asked if he "hated" Felicio for interrupting his moment.

"No hate. Just a strong dislike, though," said Wade with a wry smile. "You know how long it's been since I had a triple double? It's been a long time."

It's been six years, as his last triple-double came in the 2010-11 season with the Miami Heat, achieving the feat with a 22-point, 12-rebound and 10-assist performance against the then-Charlotte Bobcats on Feb. 4, 2011.

Even more than the statistical feat was Wade's variety, as he grabbed seven rebounds in the decisive third-quarter run that broke the game open, hitting Butler and Bobby Portis for long touchdown passes that would've had Jay Cutler or whichever quarterback the Cleveland Browns are banking on next fall, blushing.

Perhaps even more impressive was the fact it was on the second night of a back-to-back with the Bulls winning in overtime against the Phoenix Suns—a game where Wade turned it up late then threw it down over Alex Len in overtime.

"I think we just found our groove," Wade said. "We've had some injuries that have gone on but we're playing good basketball."

More pointedly, so is Wade, aided by him often finding Felicio for easy dunks on the pick and roll as they play second and fourth quarters together. 

Felicio was clearly bothered by his gaffe, which was made worse by the take-no-prisoners approach from Wade and Butler. When a member of foreign media approached him about an interview, Felicio said "you're not asking me about that last rebound, are you?"

Later in the evening, Felicio went to Twitter, posting "I did not know!!" in reference to Wade's night.

"I told him I didn't not even gonna act like I ain't mad at him. I'm very mad at him," said Wade with a laugh. "But he's all good. He said he didn't see me down there. So he took a shot at my height. It's cool. Jimmy had one. It would've been nice to have two triple doubles."

"I'm sure a stat would've came out that would've said, ‘Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler are the first duo to get a triple-double on a back-to-back since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen', since they got every record around here."

He was close, although Jordan and Pippen didn't achieve their feat on a back-to-back but a random night in the 1988-89 season. Jordan scored 41 with 11 assists and 10 rebounds and Pippen had 15 with 12 assists and 10 rebounds in a 126-121 overtime win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

"We laugh about that often, but it's all good," Wade said. "I gotta work harder till I get another one one day."

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