Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls

Gibson carries on in Bulls win despite injuries

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

By Sam Smith | 2.21.2015 | 11:12 p.m. CT

You’ve heard the questions and the lament as Taj Gibson dropped balls, wasn’t always able to finish at the rim, played well, but, well, not as well as expected. His scoring well down. Must be pouting because he’s not starting, went one theory. Upset with trade rumors went another. Jealous of contracts other players are getting.

Gibson heard it all and it hurt. That’s not who he is, a selfish, self centered player. He’s always been about team and teammates, about doing what he could, what he was asked. But Gibson also was never one to make excuses. Sure, he could have, and even more than anyone imagined.

That’s because Gibson has been playing basically all season with a sprained ankle which he’s aggravated several times, but also a stage two ligament tear in his left hand, one so severe team doctors advised putting him in a cast. It happened last month in the Martin Luther King Day loss in Cleveland. So Gibson tried to keep his head up and his hand down.

But these last two games, even with the loss to the Pistons Friday, Gibson has been as active and energized as he has been in weeks. He played a significant role in Saturday’s 112-107 win over the Phoenix Suns with 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter when the Bulls opened with a 17-6 run to take control of the game and hold on for a vital home win.

“Feeling a lot healthier,” said Gibson, whose two scores started the four quarter, the second on a lob from Joakim Noah. “Thibs (coach Tom Thibodeau) told me he understood I was playing through injury. I’m a guy who doesn’t try to point out I’m hurt; just try to go out there and do my job. He just told me to get right over the (All-Star) break, focus on getting my mind and body right and that’s what I did. Just try to come out and bring some energy. It was fun; it felt like old times.”

It will be better times for the Bulls with Gibson playing as he has the past two games with 15 points and nine rebounds Friday. The Bulls bench has struggled the last month with Gibson’s injury, basically unbeknownst to everyone outside the team. But Gibson and Aaron Brooks, the latter also with 12 points, were crucial in that fourth quarter run. Their energy and shot making is the sort of difference the team has missed of late.

And perhaps even more so the inspiration of someone like Gibson, whose energy and effort often are a rallying point for the team. Gibson gave what he could, but he knew it wasn’t enough. But that he never sat out or sat down remains the symbol of what this Bulls team has been and can be. Fans asked what was wrong; critics said to trade him. Gibson kept his mouth closed and his head up, and just Saturday after the win over the Suns revealed for the first time everything he has endured. Though at the same time optimistic about the future of the team.

“Normally I generally stay in Chicago every break to get my body right,” said Gibson. “This time I just needed to get my mind right, focus on trying to help improve the team. Not try to point fingers, but just focus on what I could do better to help the team. Thibs just told me he appreciated me, going out there playing through stuff.
I feed off Thibs. I’m from New York and he always says to me every day, ‘You’re from Brooklyn; you’re tough.’ I just feed off what he preaches to be and just try to be a no excuse kind of guy and do my job.”

There’s also been questions and speculation about Thibodeau’s voice with the team. But Gibson’s endorsement was hearty and full throated: Thibodeau’s drive and support is a motivating force for the team going forward.

“I was playing with a stage two ligament tear in my (left) hand,” Gibson finally disclosed. “It was so frustrating; just try to go out there and do what I can. Thibs told me never to try to tell about any injuries. Just go out and try to give for your team, whatever you can and that’s been my slogan, just try to do what I can.

“It happened about four weeks ago in,” Gibson revealed. “They didn’t know what to do. They put a big cast on my hand. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. I didn’t tell anybody until now. It’s almost healed up now. Thibs said never give a team an excuse, any (warning) trigger point on you to slow your game down. That’s why I always remained quiet and whatever criticism I take, that’s what I’m going to take.”

Plus there was the nagging ankle injury.

“The doctors told me that will go away after the season is done,” said Gibson. “I said, ‘Doc, whatever it takes, just bandage me up. I’ll get my treatment and do what I can on the court.’ No excuses, try to help my team any way I can

“There was a lot of speculation, (people) saying (I) was frustrated. I’m not that kind of guy,” said Gibson, clearly hurt by the accusations. “Whatever team I’m on, whatever teammates I’ve got I’m not that kind of guy. I’m team first; whatever the team needs I’m going to put the team first. I’ve never been a guy to focus on shots, to focus on minutes. I’m about winning and trying to win a championship. It was frustrating for people to speculate that and put that in my character. That’s never been my character. I will never be like that.

“The thing is I’ve been coming off the bench most of my whole career,” noted Gibson. “I’ve come off the bench behind talented players, Tyrus Thomas, Carlos Boozer, now Pau. Nothing is going to change: Go out there, do my job. Whatever minutes I am going to get, just go out there and play hard, take your shots when they come.

“One thing about this team, we really care about each other on this team,” said Gibson. “It’s never any animosity. I really appreciate playing on a team like this, and when I heard all the speculation that he is frustrated it was frustrating to me because I’ve never been like that. I’ve never been that kind of player.
My teammates have been great to me; we are like a family, we keep things close.

“It’s tough in Chicago with so many expectations,” admitted Gibson. “Sometimes you just have to get away, the trade talk, all the stuff. I learned from Luol Deng. He’s a guy who had his name in trade talks just like me, all the time, all the speculation. I just needed to get away. Thibs, we talk all the time. He’s a good coach to me. He told me to get away, get your body right. He said, “I appreciate you. You’re a championship caliber player.’ You’ve just go to keep pushing through. I respect him for that.

“It’s a lot at stake here,” said Gibson of the Bulls season. “It’s big, bigger than me, bigger than everybody on this team. We understand we have what it takes to win a championship. Not many players can honestly say that they’ve been on a championship caliber teams almost every year; since Thibs has been here. I appreciate it and just got to keep pushing.

“Like Kirk Hinrich, he’s one of those blue collar guys playing through injuries and never complains, one of those guys always ready to step in and do the job,” said Gibson. “Everyone feeds off that. We’ve just got to keep pushing and working our way through things. All we have is us. We’ve just got a few games left before the big show happens and now we’ve got to shut up and just play.”