CHICAGO -- Rip Hamilton readily admits this season has been a roller coaster.
It's apropos in a sense -- given it's an old cliche from a veteran player trying to find the form that made him so dangerous several years ago. After a season full of low points and downward spirals, Hamilton reached a peak Tuesday night, scoring 20 points, 18 of which came in the third quarter, the most by any Bull in one quarter all season. As he has done at various points this season, Hamilton showed flashes of the player the Bulls desperately want him to be. Without Derrick Rose, Hamilton became the playmaker in the third quarter.
Without Derrick Rose, Hamilton became the playmaker in the third quarter. He was the man the rest of his teammates turned to for offense. He was the guy who set the tone everyone else followed. For one night, Hamilton was the man the Bulls signed him to be.
"That's what I've been doing my whole career," Hamilton said confidently after it was over. "But on this team I've got to pick my moments. We've got so many guys on this team that can score and put the ball in the basket so it's just not all about me scoring all the time, sometimes it's making plays and getting guys easy baskets. It's just catching the rhythm of the game, knowing when they need me to score and do other things."
What the Bulls need most from Hamilton is continued health. Hamilton has played in only 19 games all year and has struggled to find his way in the Bulls' offense because of all the setbacks. Things changed on Tuesday though -- and his teammates recognized the difference immediately.
"Tonight was a great night for Rip," Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer said. "He was shooting from everywhere. He was hot in the third quarter, very aggressive. It was the first time we saw him that aggressive and it was good, it gave us a huge lift."
It was the kind of lift that the Bulls needed and one that his teammates were always confident he could provide.
"I'm not worried about Rip at all," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "He just needs more games to get his legs. He's going to get it going. He's a competitor and he knows the game. He just plays hard."
But how much harder can he go?
Even after racking up those 18 points, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau decided to rest Hamilton for the rest of the night. After saying in recent days that he wanted to start extending the veteran more than an imposed 20-minute limit, Thibodeau has shied away from allowing Hamilton to play in crunch time. It's a decision that could change in the near future.
"There are going to be some ups and downs," Thibodeau said. "He's missed a ton of time. He is putting a lot of work in, he is getting more comfortable. You can see his rhythm coming around. 20 points in 20 minutes -- he was outstanding. He did a lot of things. He was playmaking and he got us into a good rhythm."
Hamilton is trying to take it all in stride. He just wants to stay on the floor and prove he can help the Bulls this year.
"We're just pacing it," he said. "We're pacing my minutes just so we don't rush right into it. We've got nine games to go so we just want to take our time with it."
But at some point soon, the roller-coaster ride will speed up once again. Hamilton believes he is ready to handle the tempo this time around.
"I don't never want to come off the court," he said. "But I thought that before I got hurt and ended up getting hurt again, so I leave it up to the coaching staff. Me and Thibs is always on the same page with that and eventually I'll play more but take what I can get right now."