- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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CLEVELAND -- Rip Hamilton might be old in basketball years -- just don't tell him that.
The 34-year-old Chicago Bulls sharpshooter dropped 19 points on the Cleveland Cavaliers Friday night, getting an unexpected jolt from some fans in the process during a torrid third-quarter stretch in which he went 7-for-8 from the field.
"Some dude in the crowd called me old, that's what woke me up," Hamilton said. "He called me Old Man Rivers, some dude behind me. So I was like, "All right, I've got something for you."
Hamilton, who had spent the early part of the game looking for his teammates, started taking over offensively. It didn't take much for his teammates to notice he wanted the ball and get it to him.
"A blind man could have seen that," Bulls guard Nate Robinson said. "They could just hear his name, 'Rip Hamilton, Rip Hamilton', he got us going. That's what we need from each guy. We knew Rip had the hot hand. Guys moving, he's still making passes, guys making easy shots. We're getting stops on the defensive end, that's what got our offense going. So if we continue to play together, play good defense, and our offense will come."
Hamilton's transformation into one of the Bulls’ go-to guys this season continues to please Tom Thibodeau. He is very comfortable having Hamilton on the floor because of the veteran guard's ability to find his teammates.
"The one thing about Rip is Rip's going to hit the open man also," Thibodeau said. "If he's open coming off the screen he's going to shoot, but when the second defender is there, he's never going to take a tough shot like that. He's always going to hit the open man, and that's the mark of a winning player. A primary scorer has the responsibility of making the right play and so when the second defender comes you have to hit the open man."
It's that ability that makes Hamilton fun to play with.
"He was on fire," Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said. "Listen, I know he's (34) everybody wants to talk about the "Old Man Rivers" and all that, but listen, he's still one of the quickest dudes on the planet in the league. He comes off screens, and every time he catches, it don't matter where he's at, if his feet (are) set, if his feet ain't set, if he's moving in the air, he hits those shots, so that's how we are. We just keep feeding that hot hand."
The teamwork and ball movement, to the tune of 34 Bulls assists on the night, is something that Hamilton and all his teammates take a lot of pride in.
"It's hard to guard," Hamilton said. "When you've got guys at every position that can score and play, and make the right play, it puts pressure on the defense at all times. The floor always stays spaced, guys are scared to help and things like that. We did an excellent job of sharing the ball and making the easy play."
The last word: Tom Thibodeau, discussing Robinson's health after he was poked in the eye and had to come out of the game in the fourth quarter:
"I think he's all right," Thibodeau said with a smile. "I heard him."
9dMatt Walks, ESPN.com