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Taj Gibson OK, Joakim Noah iffy for Bulls’ Game 6 vs. 76ers

Taj GibsSpencer Hawes

Taj Gibson, Spencer Hawes

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PHILADELPHIA—First Taj Gibson walked into the old-school gymnasium at Community College of Philadelphia, where chairs were set up for Bulls players to meet and watch film before they took the floor Thursday morning for a shootaround leading up to Thursday night’s Game 6 (6 p.m., CSN) of their quarterfinal playoff series with the Sixers at Wells Fargo Center.

The forward who twisted his ankle in the third quarter of the Bulls Game 5 victory was not limping. Later, Joakim Noah walked into the same gym wearing headphones as curious onlookers looked on. The center who rolled his ankle in Game 3 was also walking without a limp, which is the best possible news for the injury-depleted Bulls.

Gibson insists he will play when the Bulls face elimination for the second straight game Thursday night while Noah’s availability will be a game-time decision, according to coach Tom Thibodeau.

“The doctor said I can’t do any harm to do it,” Gibson said. “It’s about how much pain I can take. I’m going to go out there and lay it on the line.”

Gibson’s return gives the Bulls a chance. He’s had a huge impact on the series thus far. The possibility of Noah’s return could give them an even bigger advantage.

Noah was on the floor shooting on Wednesday, according to Gibson, and planned to participate in portions of Thursday’s shootaround, according to Thibodeau.

“It would be great for our team,” Gibson said of Noah’s possible return. “We would have an extra big, one of our emotional leaders back. He can help our team out in a lot of different ways.”

Backup center Omer Asik has started the past two games with Noah out, although the 6-foot-9 Gibson has also logged minutes at center. Gibson and power forward Carlos Boozer have played short minutes together at times during the regular season but were an effective combination while sharing the floor in Game 5.

Thibodeau said Asik would get his third straight start if Noah is unable to play.

“It works best the way it is right now,” Thibodeau said said of starting Asik at center instead of Gibson. “When Carlos has been out, [Gibson] has started and handled that extremely well. He has gotten a lot more comfortable playing the five. He and Carlos compliment each other extremely well. I also like what Omer has done. He’s helped set the tone for our defense. The three of those guys together have done a great job.”

Asik has taken a step back offensively this season but is a force defensively and as a rebounder. On the rare occasions when the Sixers were able to penetrate in Game 5, they were often met by Asik in the paint. The third-year center had four points, three blocked shots and six rebounds in 27 minutes, 39 seconds Tuesday night.

“He’s terrific,” Thibodeau said of Asik. “His shot blocking at the rim is huge, anchoring the defense, he’s a big multiple-effort guy, communicates well, understands strengths and weaknesses of individual players well. He’s an excellent pick-and-roll defender and offensively he’s a great screener and passer.”

The team that shoots better will likely triumph in Game 6. Players such as Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams and Elton Brand could heat up after the Sixers shot just 32 percent in Game 5.

Philadelphia shot a scorching 59 percent in Game 2. In the other four games, they are shooting just 36 percent.

“The biggest thing in playoff basketball is you’re playing the same team over and over again so it’s harder and harder to get easy baskets,” Thibodeau said. “That’s one of Philly’s strengths. We have to take that out of the game. That’s why it’s so important to take care of the ball. If they turn you over and get into the open floor their speed and quickness is a big strength of theirs.

“Playoff basketball, as each series goes on game after game, if you have floor balance and you’re not turning it over and are getting three defenders back, it’s very difficult to get true fast breaks. You’re forcing a team more into their secondary action.”

Gibson’s key to the Bulls forcing a Game 7 at the United Center on Saturday is more fundamental.

“Play with a lot of heart, play with a lot of effort, loose balls,” he said when asked what the Bulls have to do. “Just fight for every possession. That’s the key to the whole series and finishing the fourth quarter strong.”



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