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Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Bench does its part to close out Raptors

By Nick Friedell

CHICAGO -- Over the past month, Tom Thibodeau has been searching for consistency from his team with little success. Aside from Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer and, to a lesser extent, Luol Deng, the first-year head coach was never quite sure what he was going to get from his team on a night-to-night basis.

Although Thibodeau's bunch was winning, the Bulls were going through the type of prolonged energy droughts that drive fans crazy. They played down to their competition and could never close out teams, even bad ones, the way they were supposed to.

That wasn't the case Tuesday night at the United Center. The Bulls throttled the lowly Raptors, 111-91, for their 14th win in 16 games, and Thibodeau found the type of consistent production he's been searching for in the most unlikely of places: The bench.

Taj Gibson
Taj Gibson came off the Bulls bench for 16 points and 14 rebounds on Tuesday at the United Center.
The Bulls' reserves racked up 52 points and 26 rebounds on the night. You read that correctly -- 52 points and 26 rebounds. Sure, the Raptors are bad, but the fact that the bench finally stepped up as a group and crushed Toronto left the entire team feeling great about where they stand.

"When we get contributions like that throughout 1-13 guys, it makes it easier for everybody," Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer said. "We have fun out there. You saw how much fun we had on the bench watching those guys get busy and that's why we're a team. We need everybody."

They got everybody pulling in the same direction Tuesday night and it showed. Taj Gibson had a big night with 16 points and 14 rebounds while Omer Asik added 13 points and seven boards of his own.

"We're doing a good job of winning games right now," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "I thought we started off slow. I thought our bench was terrific. Guys came in and got us going."

Specifically it was Gibson and Asik who set the tone early, proving two things we already knew in the process.

  • When Gibson and Asik play the way they did throughout the game, it's hard for most teams in the league to beat the Bulls, whether Joakim Noah plays or not. Gibson and Asik are long and continue to improve, especially Asik. The Turkish big man is playing with more confidence and providing a solid option on the nights when Kurt Thomas is ineffective.

  • Without question, the two players that Bulls general manager Gar Forman fields the most calls about are Gibson and Asik. They are young and their contracts are relatively cheap. The more games they play like this, the easier it may be for Forman to deal them at the deadline for another piece. The Bulls love both players, but if the right deal comes up, one or both may be gone.

    "Me and him, we know our role coming off the bench," Gibson said. "We have to play with a lot of energy. And in practice, we just bring it so hard. It feels good because he's developing, I'm developing. Down the line, it's going to improve us as a team and we're looking forward to the next game."

    For Gibson, his performance has to feel even sweeter considering it's the first time in a while where he has looked like his old self. After sustaining a concussion on Dec. 18, Gibson has struggled to find the rhythm he played with earlier in the year. That rhythm appears to be back now, though.

    "Coming off the bench, your role changes," Gibson said. "The one thing about the coaching staff in practice since I had my injury, they just told me to keep pushing. Don't worry about that. Just try to help the [team] in other ways."

    He did that repeatedly on Tuesday and so did the rest of his benchmates. It's the biggest reason why the Bulls have now won five straight and appear to finally be hitting some kind of stride without Noah.

    "You're relaxed and you have confidence," Rose said of how the bench's play helps the rest of the team. "If anything, it builds their confidence as a group and they go out there and play harder."