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2012-13 Bulls | 82 games of coverage | January

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Game 45 | Bulls stop Bucks in Milwaukee

Bulls 104, Bucks 88 | 01.30.2013 | Chicago 28-17 on the season

Sam Smith: Now that was fun, assuming you were Nate Robinson or Jimmy Butler or Luol Deng and the Bulls Wednesday in a mostly runaway 104-88 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.

There was the Bulls single engine prop aircraft, Nate Robinson, taking off for his first dunk of the season.

“My teammates have been (teasing) me all season, talking about how I’m a slam dunk champion and I didn’t get no dunks,” said Robinson, who led the Bulls with 24 points, including 16 in the second quarter when the Bulls took a 20-point lead. “My fans have been asking me when I’m going to dunk again so hopefully they’ll get off my back and I don’t have to dunk no more this season.”

There was again super sub Jimmy Butler, the Marquette product, taking a lob pass from Deng for an alley oop slam dunk in a new statement in a burgeoning Lob City East.

“Lu keeps throwing it higher and higher to see how high I can go,” said Butler, back in a reserve role with Deng’s return but no less effective with 18 points and six rebounds in 27 minutes. “We came out of the huddle (late in the third when the Bucks cut the Bulls lead to eight) and he said we’re going to run (the lob). So it’s going up there.”

Butler, who was left out of the All-Star’s freshman/sophomore game, finished the slam dunk grabbing the ball near the top of the backboard in making a case for the slam dunk contest.

The Bulls went on to close the third leading 79-68, and then applied the defensive tourniquet that had shut off the Bucks’ first half offensive flow and enabled the Bulls to take a 55-37 halftime lead.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game

Game 44 | Bulls dodge Bobcats bite this time

Bulls 93, Bobcats 85 | 01.28.2013 | Chicago 27-17 on the season

Sam Smith: It’s not exactly a crisis. Actually, it’s a pretty good thing for the Bulls as they ponder their 93-85 victory Monday over the Charlotte Bobcats, their seventh win in the last nine, to go to 27-17. But with the emergence of second year man Jimmy Butler, who led the Bulls in scoring off the bench with a career high 19 points, for the first time as Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is faced with true rotation and starting lineup questions regarding the use of Butler.

Starting five games for injured All-Star Luol Deng, Butler averaged 14.2 points and 8.6 rebounds. Though, more importantly, Butler for the Bulls is the rare, exceptional athlete who could complement his skilled, hard working teammates. The Bulls were 3-2 with Butler starting, and then Deng, the league leader in minutes played, returned Monday getting 12 points and four rebounds in 31 minutes. Deng said he felt good with no problems, and Thibodeau said he wanted to be cautious with playing time for Deng given the hamstring injury.

But Butler played 31 minutes off the bench for a strong reserve performance that included 15 points from Nate Robinson, 11 of the 16 in a 16-3 run into the fourth quarter that broke the game open for the Bulls and enabled them to hold off the Bobcats and avenge a home loss to Charlotte last month.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | Discuss the game
BullsTV recap | Inside the Locker Room: Carlos Boozer | Jimmy Butler | Luol Deng

Game 43| Bulls with a bad time in Washington

Wizards 86, Bulls 73 | 01.26.2013 | Chicago 26-17 on the season

Sam Smith: There’s some debunking to be done. There’s this popular belief about the Bulls that one of their biggest problems is playing down to inferior opposition, as they supposedly did Saturday in losing 86-73 to the Washington Wizards after wins over the Lakers, Warriors, Celtics, Hawks, Heat and Knicks this month.

“When we play against good teams, we really execute, really pay attention to detail,” said Richard Hamilton, one of five starters failing to score in double digits. “Really do a lot of things to win basketball games, swing the ball and stuff like that. When we play against teams under .500, I think we kind of get away from that a little bit, thinking that we’re just going to show up and win. We have to get away from that. It’s a long season, so you have to find ways to motivate yourself. Some games you’re going to have and some games you’re not. You have to trick yourself sometimes to get up for these back-to-back games.”

There is something to what Hamilton said with the Bulls’ precise, unselfish play, especially with Derrick Rose out all season and Luol Deng out with a hamstring injury the last week. Deng is expected to return Monday against Charlotte.

It’s just that as terrifically as the Bulls have played this season now at 26-17, they are a seriously flawed team. Yes, they have two-All Stars in addition to Rose: Joakim Noah, who admits he’s an All-Star more for effort than expertise, and Deng, who relies on a combination of eclectic talents than any one in particular. But they are one of the least athletic teams in the league, nicely countering that with perhaps as sharp fundamental play as any team, moving the ball, players constantly in motion, boxing out on the boards, rebounding furiously. It’s another reason why it’s a team so easy to admire and support. Their shooting is not great, average at best in threes. They don’t get easy points with few fast breaks and don’t particularly force a lot of turnovers...

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game

Game 42 | Bulls leave Warriors in a not very good state

Bulls 103, Warriors 87 | 01.25.2013 | Chicago 26-16 on the season

Sam Smith: You want to listen to a man when he’s an All-Star. Because then he’s achieved the respect of his profession with the assumption he embraces the gravity of a situation, the need to express the proper thoughtfulness and solemnity to inquires about performance.

“Kirky Worky, huge for us,” Joakim Noah was enthusing in the Bulls locker room after the Bulls Friday dominated the Golden State Warriors 103-87 led by Hinrich’s season-high 25 points and team leading point total for the second time in the last three games. Hinrich also matched a career-high with six three pointers as the Bulls converted nine.

“Jimmy Boy, huge for us,” Noah went on about Jimmy Butler, starting his fourth game for the injured Luol Deng. Butler had a peripatetic effect on the Warriors with 16 points and 12 rebounds as all three front court Bulls players for the first time this season had double-doubles.

Carlos Boozer had 15 points and 13 rebounds and his conference leading 24th double-double and Noah with 14 points and 16 rebounds had his 22nd double-double.

“That’s the beauty of this team,” Noah said. “A lot of guys are stepping up. Everybody came in with the right mindset, right edge. We just went after the ball (56-37 rebounding edge). We knew they were playing some really good basketball. We played with the right edge and probably played one of our best games of the season. And our horses are on the way back. It’s exciting.”

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game
Inside the Locker Room with Jimmy Butler | Arena Link: Joakim Noah

Game 41 | Noah saves the ball and the Bulls against Pistons

Bulls 85, Pistons 82 | 01.23.2013 | Chicago 25-16 on the season

Sam Smith: The NBA, really, features more great plays than any other sport. They’re fun, and, after all, it is a game and games are entertainment. But there are different kinds of great plays. Some are, “Hey, look at me,” great plays,” fabulously acrobatic dunks that leave you gasping in amazement at the sheer individual ability and splendor.

And some are, “Hey, look at us,” great plays, perhaps a bit clumsy looking at first, not exactly something you can’t do, though doubt you ever would do, not quite graceful but cunningly effective. Like Joakim Noah’s extraordinary save of a Marco Belinelli miss that led to Belinelli’s winning layup in the 85-82 comeback win over the Detroit Pistons Wednesday.

It may have been the most unique play a center ever has made. Not offensively, as it couldn’t compare with Wilt’s magic, and not defensively, exactly, as it didn’t rank with the regular wizardry of Bill Russell. But just for team effort, determination and exceptional timing, for sacrifice for the whole, a unique characteristic that symbolizes this 25-16 Bulls team at the halfway point of the NBA season.

“That was incredible, incredible,” marveled Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, not generally one for the superlatives. “Quite frankly, I don’t know how he got to it. It was an incredible play and then Marco making the shot (second game winner in less than a week) and hitting the free throw. It is big time stuff. He had 18 rebounds and did not come out in the second half, great hustle plays. Jo was something.”

So was Jimmy Butler, starting for the injured Luol Deng for a third straight game and leading the Bulls with 18 points, equaling his career high, along with nine rebounds and four assists, also tying career highs. Butler played just over 46 minutes, his average with Deng out, also averaging 15.3 points and 8.3 rebounds. Carlos Boozer had 16 points in just 26 minutes, and Taj Gibson came off the bench with 14. But it was Nate Robinson rescuing the Bulls with Kirk Hinrich scoreless, playing the entire fourth quarter and leading the Bulls in scoring in the fourth, though it was Robinson’s eclectic run with all of his nine points in the first three minutes of the quarter, rallying the Bulls back from a 17-point third quarter deficit.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game
Inside the Locker Room: Jimmy Butler | Joakim Noah

Game 40 | No lakes in L.A. and not many wins

Bulls 95, Lakers 83 | 01.21.2013 | Chicago 24-16 on the season

Box score | Discuss the game | Blogs.Bulls.com

Sam Smith: It looks like the Bulls are better than the Lakers, which would have been a good thing in 1987 or before the start of this season.

“We have a good team,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau after a fun night at the United Center with a howling, stomping, dancing crowd that enjoyed more than a 95-83 win over Kobe, Dwight, Pau, Nash and the Lakers. The Bulls–still without Derrick Rose and also Luol Deng, and after losing a 14-point lead and seeing the game tied with 7:26–left pulling away on the play of Marco Belinelli, Jimmy Butler and Kirk Hinrich, were cause for celebration.

It is getting tougher and tougher to deny, and with the Bulls tied for third fewest losses in the East, now 24-16 and with Thibodeau saying Rose is closing in on joining the team in full practices the possibilities begin to get a bit more delicious as the team hits the midpoint of the season and All-Star bids for reserves Thursday.

“The road for us is not going to get easier,” warned Thibodeau as he seemed to sense what everyone as thinking. “I don’t want our guys to exhale and start feeling good. This is going to be a tough road. We have to keep battling and concentrate on the improvement.”

Yes, we know, as if that’s a surprise with the ever vigilant Thibodeau, though everyone seemed to be finding their happy place.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game
Inside the Locker Room: Marco Belinelli | Jimmy Butler

Game 39 | Bulls go to overtime again but lose to Memphis

Grizzlies 85, Bulls 82 (OT) | 01.19.2013 | Chicago 23-16 on the season

Sam Smith: There are many great mysteries of the world, the latest, of course, the tale of the Notre Dame star linebacker and the make believe girlfriend. Though perhaps that really doesn’t compare to the mysteries of the shroud of Turin, the fate of Amelia Earhart, the Bermuda Triangle and the absence of Joakim Noah the last 23 minutes Saturday in the Bulls’ 85-82 overtime loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

So Bulls coach Tom “the open book” Thibodeau was asked after the game about Noah sitting out, especially in the overtime, the Bulls’ third straight in four nights, when Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol combined for seven of the nine Memphis points.

“That’s just a coaching decision,” Thibodeau said.

There was another question, which drew the response, “Coaching decision.”

Was Noah healthy?

“He’s fine,” Thibodeau said.

Then about not playing?

“Coaching decision.”

Well, that should clear it up.

In many respects, it was a rare playing rotation for Thibodeau, who generally is accused of running his stars into the ground. But not only Noah, but Richard Hamilton and Kirk Hinrich barely played, either, after midway through the third quarter with the Bulls to that point basically playing one of their poorest games of the season with 47 points through three quarters.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Inside the Locker Room with Taj Gibson | Discuss the game

Game 38 | Bulls win another classic in Boston

Bulls 100, Celtics 99 (OT) | 01.18.2013 | Chicago 23-15 on the season

Sam Smith: Bulls’ game savers Friday in an unlikely and equally remarkable 100-99 overtime victory in Boston: Marco Belinelli with a falling down 14-footer with 3.1 seconds left in overtime for the winner, Kirk Hinrich with a 15-footer with two seconds left in regulation after Belinelli had the ball poked away from him, that coming after basically all the Celtics had to do was get the ball in with 9.4 seconds remaining and an 88-86 lead.

But Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau called a tie up play, and Jimmy Butler subbing for the injured Luol Deng and Joakim Noah forced Paul Pierce into a jump ball that would end in Hinrich’s shot to force overtime.

“Obviously,” said Thibodeau, “We found a way to win.”

How isn’t quite as clear.

It was a heck of an entertaining game. Perhaps not quite with the drama or marvel of the great playoff series 2009, but a thrilling and ruggedly played regular season game in which the Bulls won their seventh in nine games this month to go to 23-15 while the Celtics dropped to 20-19. The Bulls got a game-high 20 points from Richard Hamilton, 19 points and 20 rebounds from Carlos Boozer and 14 points and 13 rebounds from Joakim Noah. But the Bulls got some bad news as Deng pulled up late in the third quarter with a strained right hamstring after Deng first tweaked it in Wednesday’s overtime win in Toronto.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game
Video: Belinelli's fadeaway in OT | Hinrich ties it up late in regulation

Game 37 | Bulls get through Canadian customs with a win

Bulls 107, Raptors 105 (OT) | 01.16.2013 | Chicago 22-15 on the season

Sam Smith: It wasn’t supposed to be going like this, not just a few games short of halfway through the season, Derrick Rose still an interested spectator and with a roster of seven new players.

But with Wednesday’s thrilling 107-105 overtime win over the Toronto Raptors on Luol Deng’s pull up 18-footer with 3.3 seconds left in overtime, the Bulls have quietly moved into strong contending position in the Eastern Conference.

“We had a tough end to 2012 (double digit losses to Atlanta, Houston and Charlotte) and we all want to play much better in 2013 and get more wins,” said Carlos Boozer, who had his best game as a Bull with 36 points and 12 rebounds for his conference leading 22nd double-double. “And so far we are doing pretty well in January.”

The Bulls are 6-2 in the new year, now 22-15 on the season on a pace to win at least 48 games. The Bulls have the best record among all East teams in games against Eastern Conference opponents, 18-6, and the best road record among Eastern Conference teams, 11-5 with the win in Toronto. The only teams with better road records are the Thunder and Clippers, who are one/two in the NBA overall. The Bulls have the third fewest number of losses in the Eastern Conference with more losses than only the Heat and Knicks. And the Bulls are 4-0 combined against the Heat and Knicks.

“We keep getting big leads but we are still not playing 48 minutes,” Deng said, noting how the Bulls had to pull out the win in overtime after leading by 19 late in the third quarter. “To get to where we want to get to we need to improve that.”

Dare we say where that is? And Rose is expected to return as his rehabilitation continues on pace as he travels with the team. If they can do all that without Rose, then…

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Video: Luol Deng's game winner in OT | Discuss the game

Game 36 | Bulls send the Hawks to historic defeat

Bulls 97, Hawks 58 | 01.14.2013 | Chicago 21-15 on the season

Box score | Discuss the game | Blogs.Bulls.com

Sam Smith: Joakim Noah is not a morning person. You, of course, can just about tell by his looks. But really, few in the NBA are. After all, they really are second shift workers, needing to be at their best around 9 p.m. So 9 a.m. is a bit early for a lot of noise to say nothing about adjectives.

But that’s what the Bulls players heard Monday morning when they first gathered after Saturday’s disappointing loss which left the Bulls a curious 10-10 at home. The message came from coach Tom Thibodeau, both colorfully and at an increased decibel, and it led to a one of the most historic mismatches in NBA history in the Bulls' 97-58 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.

The Hawks scored the second fewest points in a half in league history, 20, as the Bulls led 48-20 at halftime. The Bulls set a franchise record for fewest points allowed, 58, and fewest points in a half with 20. It was the fewest points a Hawks team has scored since they played in Milwaukee. The Hawks 20.5 percent first half shooting was a Bulls franchise best and the Hawks’ five points in the second quarter (two of 21 shooting for 9.5 percent) tied a Bulls franchise record. The win enabled the Bulls at 21-15 climb past the slumping Hawks in the East standings.

“Thibs screaming at us early in the morning,” nodded Noah, who had nine points and a dominating 16 rebounds. “He was screaming.”

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Inside the Locker Room: Taj Gibson | Joakim Noah | Discuss the game

Game 35 | Bulls get burned by Suns

Suns 97, Bulls 81 | 01.12.2013 | Chicago 20-15 on the season

Sam Smith: The stars were twinkling, the night was clear and crisp. The Bulls had themselves a wonderful evening. It just didn’t happen to be the most recent one, Saturday, when the Phoenix Suns, who’d lost 11 of their last 12 games and were playing their fourth game in five nights, dominated the Bulls in 97-81 rout.

“We’re going on the road and beating some of the best teams, then coming home against lower echelon teams and not competing,” noticed Joakim Noah of the most obvious contradiction, the road win in New York Friday a week after the road win in Miami.

The Bulls are tied for the best road record in the NBA at 10-5. But the Bulls are 23rd in home record at 10-10, including losses to three of the five worst teams in the league, the Hornets, Bobcats and Suns.

“If we all knew what the problem was, we’d do something about it,” said Noah.

Pick me! Pick me! I know what’s wrong.

The Bulls just aren’t good enough to be that consistent. They are not particularly athletic, don’t have a big scorer without Derrick Rose who can break down the defense and get a shot when needed, a run stopping offensive star or just simply a great shooter.

Then how are the Bulls 20-15 and just two and a half games out of second in the Eastern Conference?

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Inside the Locker Room with Jimmy Butler | Discuss the game

Game 34 | Bulls defeat Knicks again and again and again

Bulls 108, Knicks 101 | 01.11.2013 | Chicago 20-14 on the season

Sam Smith: The Knicks are supposed to be the second best team in the Eastern Conference, even beyond their 23-13 runner up record to the Miami Heat. The Bulls Friday in New York defeated the Knicks 108-101 for the third consecutive time this season, and in a game Knicks’ players have been saying they had circled after the beating they took from the Bulls last time the teams played.

This win in which the Knicks never led and trailed by 22 going into the fourth quarter came a week after the Bulls went to Miami and defeated the Heat in a game Miami never led in the second half.

The Bulls are 9-1 against Eastern Conference teams on the road and 16-6 overall against the conference, the best record in the East against common opponents. The Bulls’ 10-5 road record is the best in the Eastern Conference.

“We’ve showed it this year, when we really focus and lock in, whoever we play we’ve been able to play with them, all the top teams, play them close whether we win or lose,” said Luol Deng, who had a season high 33 points Friday. “We know that when we show up and stick to the game plan, we can really play with anyone in this league.”

And, yes, without Derrick Rose, who is supposed to return sometime after the All-Star break as he’s traveling with the team now.

So who is anyone to say the Bulls are not contenders in the Eastern Conference? No one is supposed to given the absence of Rose. But you go on the road and defeat the Heat and the Knicks in consecutive weeks.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game

Game 33 | The Bucks don’t stop in Chicago

Bucks 104, Bulls 96 | 01.09.2013 | Chicago 19-14 on the season

Sam Smith: There’s been a lot of Derrick Rose talk these last few days in the media, stuff about how he’s running or looking improved or skipping his Skittles. Nothing, however, has changed. He’s still out most likely until at least the All-Star game, if not longer. And then when he returns, there could be all sorts of limitations on playing time.

But the Bulls’ 104-96 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday in the United Center emphasizes a few things as much as ever.

The Bulls’ margin of error is so slight without Rose that they need at least three or four players having better than average games. Against the Bucks, it was pretty much Boozer with 22 points and 11 rebounds, and perhaps a bit of Luol Deng with 18 points. The box score shows 19 points and three three pointers for Nate Robinson, who had a huge first quarter in helping the Bulls take a 33-22 lead.

But with Kirk Hinrich out again, this time with an elbow injury, Robinson had to play almost 43 minutes and was three of 11 after halftime. While also apparently supplying some motivation to the Bucks Brandon Jennings, who scored 20 of his game high 35 points in the third quarter when the Bucks regained — and never lost — the lead.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Inside the Locker Room with Luol Deng | Discuss the game

Game 32 | Bulls continue mastery over Cavaliers

Bulls 118, Cavalies 92 | 01.07.2013 | Chicago 19-13 on the season

Sam Smith: There have been the disappointing, embarrassing and uncertain times for the Bulls this season, the 27-point blown lead at home to the Bucks, the Bulls next home opponent Wednesday with Scott Skiles out and Jim Boylan in as interim; the home losses to New Orleans and Charlotte, two of the four losingest teams in the NBA. There were the blowout losses to the Clippers when it seemed the Bulls were unable to compete, the languorous loss to the Hawks and the Christmas Day humiliation against the Rockets.

But as the Bulls close in on the halfway point of the 2012-13 season, they’ve moved to 19-13 after putting on a basketball clinic Monday in a 118-92 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

And at 19-13, the Bulls suddenly are projecting out to a 49-win season.

And that’s without Derrick Rose, who is expected to return from injury later in the season.

“We’re gelling,” said Carlos Boozer, who had his fifth consecutive double/double with 24 points and 11 rebounds, plus four assists as the Bulls starting front three totaled 15 assists in a brilliant exhibition of unselfish and efficient play.

“We work out together, hang together,” Boozer said of this Bulls group. “We’re like a college team. Games like this are fun with everyone playing great.”

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap
Inside the Locker Room: Taj Gibson | Joakim Noah | Discuss the game

Game 31 | Bulls rebound against Miami

Bulls 96, Heat 89 | 01.04.2013 | Chicago 18-13 on the season

Sam Smith: That’s it! That’s all you got?

Well, nobody on the Bulls actually said that after a convincing and impressive 96-89 road win Friday over the defending champion Miami Heat. But the Bulls in going to 18-13 essentially said that with their dominant play.

No one is quite writing off the Heat yet as they still lead the Eastern Conference with a 22-9 record. But the Bulls supplied the rest of the NBA the blueprint for beating Miami, even if the Oklahoma City Thunder couldn’t pull it off in last season’s Finals. The Heat ranks next to last in the league in rebounding and tries to beat you with shooting and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade closing games. Rebounds equal rings, Heat president Pat Riley always exclaimed. The Heat won without them. Though there’s a question of whether they can again, effectively the first full challenge to the Heat’s NBA supremacy.

“I don’t know if that small ball is gong to work against us,” said Joakim Noah of the Bulls dominating 48-28 edge in rebounds, 20-7 in second chance points and 19-4 on the offensive boards.

Champions don’t get beaten like that.

“Not with a guy like Carlos Boozer in the game,” Noah continued in an upbeat Bulls locker room. “It was a great win for us. I thought Carlos played very well, defensively as well. He was very active in the post. That was huge for us. That play when he dove on the floor, caught it and he passed to Taj (Gibson) and he got fouled. I thought that was the play of the game. We outhustled them.”

That was one of several big time plays by Boozer, who had 27 points and 12 rebounds in his second big game in a row, and Jimmy Butler and Nate Robinson down the stretch with Robinson and Boozer scoring 13 of the Bulls’ 21 points in the fourth.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game

Game 30 | Bulls magically return to victory in Orlando

Bulls 96, Magic 94 | 01.02.2013 | Chicago 17-13 on the season

Sam Smith: It hasn’t been the best of times, this 2012-13 NBA season for Taj Gibson, at least on the basketball court. Off the court, well, that was different as Gibson agreed to a $33 million contract extension. But in some sense that made it even worse. Because Gibson does care. Gibson has been a lifetime overachiever, right up to his contract extension, the lowest draft pick from 2009 to be rewarded.

But on the court, it’s been another story, and not a happy one for Gibson or the Bulls. The hyperactive forward has been in a sort of sleep mode. For one thing, it seemed the Bulls had decided to pay Gibson as they let Omer Asik escape in free agency. And Asik has excelled playing All-Star level basketball while Gibson has been at career lows in scoring and rebounding. Gibson was supposed to be the guy to fill in the gap left by Asik’s departure with additional play at center. But Gibson has been so inconsistent even his playing time decreased.

But that may have all changed Wednesday in Orlando at perhaps the most vital time for the Bulls. With Joakim Noah missing his first game of the season with flu, Gibson got his first start in more than a year and came through so impressively in a 96-94 Bulls victory that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was stuttering praise.

“Huge, huge, huge, huge,” Thibodeau repeated after the Bulls narrow escape that included Gibson coming across to make a game saving block on Jameer Nelson with 11.3 seconds remaining.

“Played big minutes, battled, played the five all night,” Thibodeau went on about Gibson with season highs of 21 points and 11 rebounds to go along with four blocks. “Just did a great job in all areas. Blocked shots, rebounding, scoring, executing, 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.”

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game

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