Taj Gibson is still dealing with pain in his left knee, but he knows that now isn’t the time to complain about it.
After missing 10 consecutive games with a sprained MCL, Gibson has been solid in his first two games back in the lineup, including Saturday’s 87-84 win over the Pacers at the United Center, in which he scored 10 points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked two shots.
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“At times, it’s rough to kind of get warmed up. It’s stiff and that’s the hardest part , being able to guard because Thibs lets me switch out on a lot of different positions. It’s tough because I have to get back into the swing of things and the timing. But he has faith in me, my teammates are helping. I’m just trying to bring back the energy that I had early in the season and so far, if I look back at tonight, it was good,” he explained.
“But right now, every single victory counts. It is a confidence booster, but right now, we’re down a lot of guys and the main thing is trying to get guys healthy, and keep fighting with whatever we have out there. Like Thibs says, we have enough to win in this locker room. It’s all about guys just stepping up and putting forth effort, and tonight, it showed.”
All-Star teammate Luol Deng echoed Gibson’s sentiments about the importance of the season’s stretch run.
“Every win is important right now. This division rivalry [game] was huge. We’ve got another game tomorrow. We felt like we didn’t play well last game and it’s just good to bounce back. At this time of the year, we need every win,” he said. “I thought everyone played well. We played together. Our bench was huge. I thought Naz [veteran center Nazr Mohammed] was big for us, guarding [Pacers center Roy] Hibbert, setting screens out there. One guy is not going to be Jo [injured center Joakim Noah] out there. I thought we did a good job as a group of executing and getting that lead, and not looking back.”
Thibodeau questions Robinson flagrant foul
Late in the third quarter, Bulls backup point guard Nate Robinson tracked down Lance Stephenson in transition and grabbed the Pacers’ shooting guard, both preventing a breakaway layup and sending his opponent crashing to the floor.
Robinson was whistled for flagrant-two foul after video review and was ejected from the contest.
“That’s a tough play. It was a turnover,” Thibodeau said about the play. “The thing I liked was that he made unbelievable effort to get back and not concede the points, so there’s a lot of speed involved, he had to make up ground and he was trying to wrap him up, so I don’t know.”
Prior to the game, Pacers head coach Frank Vogel praised Stephenson, a little-used reserve in his first few NBA seasons, for his development, even comparing it to Indiana’s All-Star swingman Paul George.
“Lance Stephenson has developed and experienced as much growth as Paul George has this year. Paul’s was going from a non-featured starter to an All-Star. Lance was going from being a non-rotational player to being a starter, so it’s a different step, but equal acceleration in both of their development,” he said. “I’m very pleased with what Lance has given us this year and we wouldn’t be here, where we are, without his play this year.”
Cook’s status uncertain
Bulls reserve sharpshooter Daequan Cook had an inspired performance Saturday, starting with a buzzer-beating layup at the end of third quarter and ending when he suffered an left inner-thigh bruise while saving a loose ball on the baseline.
“I hit the cameraman,” he explained. “The inner part of my thigh, with his knee.”
Cook was unsure of whether he would be able to play in Sunday’s game at Minnesota.
“It’s too early right now,” he said. “Just ice and treatment tonight. We’ll know tomorrow morning.”
Vogel talks Bulls-Pacers rivalry
Before the game, Vogel talked about the divisional rivalry between his team and the Bulls, which goes back to the first round of the 2011 playoffs.
Indiana had a chance to sweep the season series before the Bulls’ win Saturday, but the Pacers are still poised to win the Central Division, ending the Bulls’ two-year stranglehold.
“I think we’ve taken big strides with our team and our growth, and obviously so far surpassing the Chicago Bulls. There’s still a lot of ball to be played. It’s been a big step for us, but we all knew they were going to be limited this year without Derrick Rose and until they get him back, they’re going to continue to be limited,” he said. “I think rivalry talk is more for the media and the fans. Obviously they’re the Central Division champs and the team that we’ve been chasing for a couple of years, so I think there’s a little more importance, a little different feeling when we play the Chicago Bulls or the Miami Heat, teams that have knocked us out in the playoffs the last couple years. The rivalry talk’s more for you guys, but it’s definitely a team we get up for.”