Taj Gibson put up 21 points and 11 rebounds in the Bulls' win over the Magic.
The happy-go-lucky forward has struggled to find his rhythm all season, but with Joakim Noah out of the lineup with flu-like symptoms, the fourth-year forward stepped up in a major way and played like the Gibson of old, scoring 21 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and playing with the type of energy that has been a staple of his game since he entered the league.
Given how poorly the Bulls have played over the past two weeks and how lifeless the offense has looked at other times, Gibson picked the perfect moment to have a breakout game and provide the type of stability which coach Tom Thibodeau expects from him.
"It was big because we were down a lot of guys," Gibson said. "You look at our team, we got a lot of guys banged up. Even in the shootaround (I) looked around, it was tough. But we just got to come together as a whole and try to take every game one at a time. But the way we just got it done in the second half, especially in the final quarter, it speaks volumes."
Gibson is right about that in this regard: Although Thibodeau didn't like the way his team finished the game, Wednesday's performance looked a lot like the past two seasons when one player would go down and another would step up. This time it was Gibson's turn -- and with the help of Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer, the Bulls had pretty much all the offensive firepower they would need as the trio combined for 75 points and 25 rebounds.
"Huge," Thibodeau said of Gibson's performance. "Huge. (He) played big minutes, battled, played the five all night, just did a great job in all areas. Blocked shots, rebounding, scoring, executing. (He) played a great game. He's been playing very well as of late too so he's starting to get into a pretty good rhythm. And I thought Carlos was terrific. That set the tone for us, he had a huge fourth quarter. And then Luol was Luol. His usual little bit of everything. Plays tough. We got a lot of production from our starters, it was very good."
Aside from Gibson's performance, Boozer really stood out against the Magic. Without Noah on the floor, the Bulls made it a point to find Boozer and get him going. It was a strategy that paid off as the veteran forward led the Bulls in the first three quarters and then allowed the defense to make plays in the final moments to finish things off.
"We were searching him out and he got going early," Thibodeau said. "I thought we recognized that and Rip (Hamilton) recognized that. Kirk (Hinrich) recognized that and when Kirk is running the team that's usually what happens -- (Boozer) usually gets 15-17 shots. You could put that in the book. And if he gets his shots he's going to score. He's shown that throughout his career."
The difference in Boozer's game can always be traced to how aggressive he is playing on the floor and he set the tone early for the Bulls in a good way. He looked for his shot and he understood that the ball would be coming to him all night, especially without Noah on the floor.
"We just played, to be honest," Boozer said. "It wasn't like we didn't anything that hadn't been done before -- we just play our style of play and that just ended being what was open. Taj had a mismatch in there, they kind of went small on him ... we were just aggressive."
That aggression is what allowed the Bulls to pull off a win they badly needed against the Magic. The Bulls, especially Gibson, haven't been playing with the type of confidence that has defined them over the past two years. It's games like this one that may help them turn things around and get back on track as they get set for a showdown against the Miami Heat on Friday night.
Gibson looks and sounds as if he's turned a corner -- maybe the same will be said about his team in the next few weeks.
"I'm starting to feel way better," Gibson said. "My ankle is feeling much better, I've been getting a lot of treatment on it. And I'm just feeling real active again. Dealing with this ankle injury, it was nagging me, but I feel a lot better today."