"I think he’s one of the dominant bigs in this league," said Gibson of Gasol. "He’s showing you right now that he still has it, no matter his age or what; he’s still hungry. It’s always good when you have a post player you can throw it down to and get something positive out of it."
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Gasol and Gibson carry Bulls over Bucks

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By Sam Smith | 11.06.2014 | 2:03 a.m. CT | asksam@bulls.com | @SamSmithHoops

There’s been this narrative about Pau Gasol, a sort of don’t confuse me with the facts thing that he is a tentative player, someone who fades from the fight, soft in the detractive vernacular of professional sports. This, of course, for the second leading man on a two-time champion team. You know: Are you going to believe what you see or what I tell you?

“A lot of bull crap stuff,” Taj Gibson was saying Wednesday night after Gasol came up strong and big once again with 22 points and 14 rebounds in the Bulls’ second consecutive comeback win, 95-86 over the Milwaukee Bucks.

Tuesday at the United Center, Gasol had 16 points and 13 rebounds as the Bulls rallied from 10 points behind without Joakim Noah as Gasol played 41 minutes. Then Wednesday, again without an ill Noah and in the second of the back to back against an active and long Bucks front line, Gasol was the rock in 36 minutes, leading the Bulls in fourth quarter rebounding.

“Pau is a physical player,” said Gibson, who added 23 points and 10 rebounds as the duo fought off a 50-42 Milwaukee rebounding edge. “People were trying to bash him and trying to say all kind of stuff. He’s a dominant player. I think he’s one of the dominant bigs in this league. He’s showing you right now that he still has it, no matter his age or what; he’s still hungry. It’s always good when you have a post player you can throw it down to and get something positive out of it.”

Gasol has been that and more and everything that was promised, leading the team in minutes played, total points, rebounds and blocks while averaging 18.8 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks.

Though the Bulls were outrebounded again Wednesday, Gasol was the leading rebounder among both teams in the fourth quarter, adding a crucial jumper when the Bulls led 79-78 with 5:12 remaining and then two clinching free throws when he grabbed a Bucks air ball and was fouled with 1:39 remaining.

“I thought Pau late in the game, it seemed like he got to every rebound,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau as the Bulls went to 4-1. “That’s huge. Not giving them a second and third crack. Oftentimes, that’s when you see the threes. The long shot, long rebound and kick out. Pau was range rebounding. He was covering a lot of ground to get to them. He had people hanging on him; he was strong. So that’s big. He’s smart and he’s long; it seems he’s a better rebounder late. With the game on the line, he’s going after it. He reads the ball well, anticipates, knows who’s shooting it. It’s one of his strengths.

“He’s a big time winner,” added Thibodeau. “Sometimes he can appear to be quiet. We see him every day; we knows he’s not quiet; quick witted, good sense of humor, very, very intelligent. He plays for the team, he plays to win. He’s just as happy when he makes a play like he did last night (passing out for the crucial three pointer to Aaron Brooks); doing dirty work, rebounding. He gets as much pleasure out of passing as scoring. I’m just glad we have him.”

It was especially important for the victory Wednesday as the Bulls bench players never got much going, outscored by Milwaukee’s reserves 50-11. Though Kirk Hinrich made two crucial three pointers in the fourth quarter. So the starters carried the night without Noah, whom the Bulls hope will play Friday in Philadelphia.

They’re also hoping Derrick Rose can play as well as Rose returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing two games with a sprained ankle, clearly not fully healed but doing enough with 13 points and seven assists to make a difference.

As always with Rose and injuries, there is a heightened alert, even for a common basketball injury like an ankle sprain. Rose was again listed a game time decision, but he said he was determined to play even as he clearly was running stiffly, especially early in the game. He went almost 32 minutes without much lift, but drawing enough defensive attention and with several runners and going to the basket late in the game to hold off the Bucks with free throws.

“I wasn’t 100 percent,” Rose acknowledged. “I felt like we needed a win and just tried to come out and get the win with my teammates. Really couldn’t get to hole as much as I wanted. No fast break points or anything, but I was still able to affect the game and draw people in with my double teams to help my teammates out.

“A regular ankle sprain, sore a little bit,” Rose said. “I’ll get treatments the entire day tomorrow and see if I can go Friday against Philly. When I came over to the arena, I knew I was going to play. They taped me up, stretched, did everything I was supposed to do and it felt all right. So I gave it a go.”

But Rose clearly was limited early. He made a pair of three pointers, though the Bucks began to go at him on defense and apparently Bucks guard Brandon Knight began to taunt Rose late in the second quarter with the Bucks leading 46-37. Rose later said he couldn’t recall what was said, but his ankle seemed to loosen up then as he led on a Bulls 12-7 run to end the half with a driving score, nifty passes to Gasol for a slam dunk and Mike Dunleavy for a three and then a powerful finishing basket of his own that changed the tenor of the game. It enabled the Bulls to trail 53-49 at halftime in a game the Bucks seemed to be dominating.

“Just basketball, competing,” shrugged Rose. “I forgot what he did to get under my skin. It’s something that just had me going. We’ll see next time.

“Starting it was kind of stiff,” Rose admitted. “I wasn’t worried offensively; we are good offensively. Before the game, I told Thibs I was worried about defense moving around. Defense you have to react, especially against the point guards they have. End of the first half, that’s when I (was able) to compete more like myself.

“(But) tonight’s game was not my game at all,” said Rose. “I did anything to win the game and tried to produce. I couldn’t jump the way I wanted. I had a gang of turnovers.”

Rose then was asked his regular question that’s some form of when did you stop being a quitter. With his history of two years with knee operations, Rose—and he does it with remarkable calm—basically has to respond almost every game to some question about being criticized on talk radio or in the newspapers or on TV about being injured. To his credit, Rose never gets angry or answers with anything but professional aplomb.

“Chicago is a hard place to play, I know that,” said Rose. “They just want to see good basketball. They’re just good basketball fans so I can’t get mad.

“Even if I play the whole year and don’t get injured again, it’s going to be the same thing (with questions),” agreed Rose. “It’s going to always be there even if I make it through the season healthy, my first playoff game is going to be like, ‘OK, is he going to be healthy through the playoffs?’… Even if I play the whole year, next year it will be the same thing. It’s just people’s opinion about the situation. The only thing I can control is myself and my work ethic and what’s going on here. We’re 4-1 now. So I’m not worrying about myself, just trying to worry about the team and just trying to put us in a good position to be contenders for the rest of the year.”

It’s a worthy enough goal with the Bulls off to a good start, tied atop the Eastern Conference in a tough part of the schedule with 12 of the first 17 on the road. The Bulls finish the current four in five days with Philadelphia and Boston home Saturday and then see Detroit, Toronto and Indiana next week before going to the Western Conference.

So it’s important to get a cushion of wins, which hasn’t been assured even against non playoff teams with the regular starting group not having played together yet. Friday in Philadelphia could be the first time, though Rose won’t be at full health and likely not Noah after a rough go with flu.

The Bulls trailed 23-21 after the first quarter as Chicagoan Jabari Parker had six points and four rebounds. But it wasn’t a good game for the celebrated rookie from Simeon High School and Duke, who ended with eight points on four of 12 shooting. As advertised, he seems to have a good feel for the game. But’s he’s not a particularly athletic player and doesn’t much make plays for himself. The Bucks have wild guards with Brandon Knight and Jerryd Bayless and don’t run much to set up Parker under inexperienced coach Jason Kidd. Knight was the only starter to score in double figures with 10 points, and he shot three of 15. It’s an athletic Bucks team that pushes the ball, though often out of control. Once the Bulls settled in and got more physical, the Bucks scored just 33 points in the second half.

“They are a veteran club and we talked about them being able to turn it up a little bit and put more pressure on us on both ends,” said Kidd. “You can see that in the third quarter, we couldn’t get going on that pace or tempo.”

The Bucks had been the aggressors in the first half, getting 14 free throws to six for the Bulls and seemed about to take over until that Rose awakening that was the start of it being a bad Knight for the Bucks.

“We’re finding our way,” said Thibodeau. “We’re dodging bullets right now. That’s an area we have to shore up (first half defense). It’s much harder to guard people if you give them confidence. Make them work for their points early so they don’t get into a rhythm. We have a lot of different combinations out there, so we are learning the strengths and weaknesses playing with different people. You need that. Over the course of a season, there are going to be different guys in at different times and everyone has to be comfortable playing with everybody. So that’s the one plus we’re getting out of this.”

Rookie Nikola Mirotic had a rough game shooting one of six and unable to contain Giannis Antetokounmpo, who led Milwaukee with 13 points.

One blind spot was the Bulls constantly missing Doug McDermott. He only played about seven minutes, but was routinely open as the Bucks curiously played well off him. But the second group seemed to rarely find him as he never got a field goal attempt.

But the Bulls got it going to start the third to finish that second quarter run with Rose getting a steal and finding Dunleavy for a fast break score. That highlighted a 13-2 run to start the third quarter and 25-9 since late in the first half to take a 62-55 lead.

“I thought as the game went along he (Rose) got stronger and stronger,” said Thibodeau. “He made big plays in the second half for us, so it was good. I thought we had a lot of guys step up. I thought Pau and Taj were terrific inside and Jimmy (Butler) and Kirk, they made great plays in the fourth quarter for us.”

The Bucks did get back within 72-70 going into the fourth quarter as their dribbling out of control guards made some plays while Gasol answered with 10 points with a runout dunk and a driving three-point play in which he pumped his fists as he’s often done with the Bulls, much more emotional and animated than advertised.

“He plays solid D,” Gibson said of Gasol. “His defense is phenomenal, blocking shots, rebounding, talking on D. He’s really in tune with the defense. That’s what people don’t understand. He’s talking to me, Joakim, he’s real vocal. He’s hungry. Every play down he’s vocal: ‘Get a stop, keep it going,’ always talking. Always ready to go.”

And then in the fourth quarter the Bulls said goodbye to the Bucks with the highlights another Butler steal among his four, a spectacular acrobatic layup for Butler, who had 14 points, seven assists, six rebounds and four steals and earlier in the day picked up his diploma at Marquette as he does continue to do it all. Hinrich had the two threes, one on a terrific Butler assist. And Brooks and Hinrich drew driving killing offensive fouls as the Bulls delivered the knockout. How’s that go: Pow!

“I’m really happy about the way I’m able to play right now,” said Gasol, “the way I’m performing and how I am contributing. I just want to continue to work and stay with it and keep that edge and keep performing at that level. I’ve just been paying attention, understanding our strengths and weaknesses and then the rest is just playing games. It’s been good, positive so far. I’m happy with what I’ve seen, what we’re doing and where we are at. Basically, we haven’t had the full team healthy in any game we’ve played and we’re 4-1. So we started off pretty well and now we just have to keep going. Not being content with a good record, a couple of wins here and there. We just have to stretch that winning streak. I love what we are doing and the direction we are heading.”

There is no Next, a book by Sam Smith

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