On two different occasions during Monday’s contest, the Bulls nearly handed the Lakers a win. Then, with less than a second remaining, they stole it right back.
Taj Gibson’s layup beat the buzzer in overtime, earning the Bulls a 102-100 win that pushed them back to .500 for the first time since late November.
It was a situation the Bulls probably shouldn’t have found themselves in. The Bulls had a three-point lead with 7.4 seconds left in regulation when Joakim Noah fouled Lakers shooting guard Nick Young on a 3-pointer, sending the game to overtime. Then, in overtime, the Bulls led by two, 100-98, inside 30 seconds when D.J. Augustin lost the ball out of bounds, allowing Young to connect on a 17-foot baseline jumper with just six seconds remaining.
Following Young’s jumper, Augustin drove the right baseline and had his pass, intended for Mike Dunleavy, knocked out of bounds under the basket with just 0.9 seconds remaining.
Twice the Bulls had the game wrapped up, and twice they let it get by them. But this year’s version of the Bulls have been more resilient than even a classic Tom Thibodeau-led team, so when they huddled together, no confidence had been lost.
“Guys still kept their head up,” Gibson said. “We’ve been in that situation before. I didn’t think he was going to call my number, but when your coach has faith in you, believes in you, that’s the kind of thing that happens.”
Off the inbounds, Jimmy Butler cleared a path out for Gibson, who sealed off defender Manny Harris — Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni said Harris was playing behind Gibson, waiting for a shooter to flare out — and Dunleavy delivered a perfect bounce pass to the Bulls’ sixth man, who finished the perfect play to send the Bulls home winners.
“You have plays that are marked for certain situations, and we had tried another play that we liked in that situation and we didn’t get anything out of it. So we went to the next one,” Thibodeau said, adding that the play was designed to go to Gibson. “It’s a quick read, but Mike made a great play on it and Taj, obviously, but you need everyone to sell the play and we had good fortune on it.”
It was Gibson’s first-ever game-winner, and after the game he admitted that he expected more resistance at the rim. But with Pau Gasol, who blocked five shots, guarding the inbounds, and Ryan Kelly cutting off Noah on the far-side block, Gibson essentially went untouched and unguarded to the hoop.
But even the most wide-open shots are still difficult with less than one second remaining. That meant taking a deep breath before the whistle blew to start the play.
“The first thing I did was just calm down. Just realize that (Thibodeau) drew it up for you and it’s going to come to you in a hostile environment because they had some shot-blockers down there,” Gibson said. “I knew Kelly was going to make an attempt on the basketball, but when the lane opened, I just saw Jodie Meeks. He was right there, trying to get it, and I just held him off and just put it off the backboard.”
The celebration was paused for a couple minutes as the officials reviewed the play. Joakim Noah never doubted the shot would count, mugging Gibson in celebration and keeping his arm around him as coaches, players and fans alike waited for the final call.
The call stood, sending the Bulls back to .500 with a game that nearly escaped them more than once down the stretch. And as for whether or not Thibodeau thought the shot got off in time?
“It looked like an eight-tenths of a second play to me,” he said with a smile.