Carlos Boozer, Marcin Gortat, Jared Dudley
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Updated: December 19, 2012 12:28PM
PHOENIX — Dinners are on Bulls forward Taj Gibson.
That was established sometime between when he got his four-year, $38 million contract extension at the beginning of the season and just before the start of the “Circus Trip’’ on Wednesday and the Bulls’ 112-106 overtime win.
That’s fine with Gibson as long as they’re victory dinners.
The Bulls began their five-game, 11-day road trip against the Suns, not only looking to recover from home losses against the Thunder and Celtics, but still searching for an identity.
An identity on offense and an identity on how to finish games.
The hope is that by the time the trip ends in Milwaukee, there will be more answers than questions.
“That’s the mentality,’’ Gibson said. “The one thing about the road is you get to know guys even better. You get to come together even more. Our bandwagon is kind of empty right now after these last couple of losses, but it’s all about what we believe in. That’s been the mentality since I’ve been here. We’re going to stick with that.’’
Coach Tom Thibodeau was focused on playing good defensive basketball, 48 minutes of it. Against the Suns, Thibodeau would have to settle for about five minutes of it in the first half.
Or, basically, when reserve Jimmy Butler entered the game.
With the Bulls down 43-42 with just over five minutes left in the half, Butler came in and added some offense and, more important, injected some defense.
After a Butler layup off a stolen inbound pass and two Richard Hamilton free throws, Butler hit a 17-footer from the baseline to put the Bulls up three. He then stepped in front of a pass at the arc and took it all the way for a slam and a five-point lead.
That seemed to spark a team that had been going through the motions, and the Bulls took a six-point lead into halftime.
“For having a homestand like we had and then to come on the road, it builds character,’’ guard Nate Robinson said. “It shows you how tough guys can be.’’
So does six points and two steals in a two-minute span, as Butler continued to let his teammates know exactly what he’s about in this his second season.
With the next stop being Los Angeles to take on the high-flying Clippers, reserves stepping up into defined roles will go a long way in this team finding itself on this trip.
The Bulls got some good news on the injury front with point guard Kirk Hinrich recovered from his strained right hip and putting in 15 minutes in the first half with no setbacks. There was also a Carlos Boozer sighting. The slumping power forward went 8-for-12 for 16 points in the first half.
“We’re a team, we’re together, so it’s all about us,’’ Robinson said. “We’re coming into these games focused because every win on the road is key. Nobody wants to lose at home, and for us to be on the road, those are games we’ve got to steal. For us that’s the challenge.’’