suntimes
UPBEAT 
Weather Updates

Taj Gibson stepping up and scoring for Bulls

Updated: March 25, 2014 11:14PM



With Derrick Rose out and Luol Deng gone, who would’ve thought the Bulls would have the most wins (28) in the Eastern Conference since Jan. 1 and be holding the No.  3 seed?

‘‘You’ve got to believe in yourself,’’ said Joakim Noah, admitting surprise. ‘‘If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that this would be the scenario, no. But there’s no time to be reminiscing. We’ve got to bring our A-game, play with a lot of energy, play with a lot of passion and play smart.’’

Noah’s a huge part of the over-achieving. Newcomer D.J. Augustin has brought a lot. Everyone staying healthy has been major.

And in this surprisingly good season, Taj Gibson also has been surprisingly good. Always a strong defender and rebounder, he’s now providing critical scoring, too.

When Gibson put up 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the Bulls’ 89-77 stare-down Monday of the Pacers, it was the 12th time he has scored at least 20 points this season. In his first four years as a Bull, he had five 20-point games.

‘‘I always had a belief system,’’ Gibson said through his engaging Brooklyn accent. ‘‘Like Derrick told me, ‘Always believe in yourself. Just take it and run with it.’ My teammates always believe in me. That’s the main thing. Everybody believes in each other. One guy goes down, everybody else is just going to keep playing.’’

And like Noah, Gibson pointed out that the Bulls really have no time for this stuff now. Fans and media can reflect in midstream; players and coaches need to stay focused on the journey.

The way Gibson responded with a big game against the Pacers three days after calling them out as floppers ought to be pretty impressive to Bulls fans and other observers. But it won’t resonate for long with Gibson.

‘‘You have to get this off your back quick,’’ he said. ‘‘In this league, once you start feeling good about yourself, somebody will smack you right away. You have to be humble at all times. Enjoy this night. And tomorrow it’s behind us.’’

With a needed three-day break until Friday, the Bulls might have bought themselves a few extra moments to savor their recent success. But not longer, not with the Trail Blazers up next. Portland has won five in a row against the Bulls.

‘‘If you’re waiting to get to the playoffs to build your habits, you’re in trouble,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. ‘‘The championship teams I’ve been around bring it every day, whether it’s practice, meetings, walk-throughs. It’s about building the right habits. You have to play this game with an edge.’’

If Thibodeau is an unrelenting drill sergeant on the point, Gibson is a dedicated recruit.

‘‘We just follow what the bulletin board says,’’ Gibson said. ‘‘Thibs, he’s a guru. He’s in the lab every day from 9 to 5. We trust what he tells us. Everybody is so familiar with the defense now, even our new guys are in sync. It shows in how we’re prepared for the games.’’

It also shows on the won-lost balance sheet. And the games of players such as Gibson.

NOTE: Tickets for the first two rounds of the playoffs will go on sale at 11 a.m. Friday at Bulls.com, NBAtickets.com, the United Center and 800-4NBA-TIX, the Bulls announced.



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.