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Bulls’ Taj Gibson, Omer Asik never let defense rest

The Bulls’ Taj Gibsblocks shot by Raptors’ Amir Johnsfourth quarter Saturday United Center. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

The Bulls’ Taj Gibson blocks a shot by the Raptors’ Amir Johnson in the fourth quarter Saturday at the United Center. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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at Grizzlies

The facts: Noon, Ch. 9, 1000-AM.

Updated: February 17, 2012 8:17AM

Lost amid the scrutiny of which power forward/center tandem has been on the floor during the fourth quarter of recent games is that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau enjoys the luxury of front-line depth.

If Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah aren’t getting the job done or just need a rest, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik can give Thibodeau the combination he’s looking for.

The Bulls play smothering
defense. That forces opponents to take bad shots, which are
rebounded and redirected upcourt. The Bulls’ league-best defense and rebounding have been huge factors in their NBA-best 12-2 start.

‘‘Omer would start for a lot of teams in the NBA,’’ Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey said
after the Bulls’ 77-64 victory against his team Saturday at the United Center. ‘‘He’s an effective big man. Length, size, strength, he knows how to play, and he’s experienced from playing over in Europe.

‘‘Taj would start on a lot of teams also. [Thibodeau has] got two pretty good players in those two guys who can step in and play. Both those guys are very effective.’’

Their effectiveness is compounded when they play together. They have played together so much — in games and against Boozer and Noah in practice — that they have developed a chemistry.

‘‘Me and him talk a lot on the plane,’’ Gibson said of Asik. ‘‘We know each other’s game real well. Every time I go to the basket — sometimes it’s crazy — I may have an open layup, and I’m still looking for him. I’d rather see him power up and dunk it. That’s how unselfish our team is.’’

Playing defense and rebounding require a team effort, but the energy Gibson and Asik bring has been invaluable. Neither are major scoring threats, but they have been so effective in shutting down the paint that Thibodeau has left them on the floor in the fourth quarter recently.

Gibson had nine of his 11 points, five of his 12 rebounds, a blocked shot and a steal in the fourth quarter against the Raptors.

‘‘They’re huge, man,’’ point guard Derrick Rose said. ‘‘They’re definitely huge. They really have been on the same page when they’re out there on defense. Offensively, they need to look for their shot a little bit more. But defensively, they’re great for us. They lock teams down.’’

The Bulls are allowing a league-low 83.8 points per game and are outrebounding their opponents by an average of 8.2 per game. They held the Boston Celtics to 33.3 percent shooting and outrebounded them 27-14 in the first half of their 88-79 victory Friday in Boston.
No wonder they led by 19 points at the break.

‘‘They are one of the tenacious rebounding teams in the league,’’ Casey said. ‘‘Every play, [Luol] Deng is coming, Noah is coming, Boozer is coming. Our thing is make sure you turn around. You may not get the rebound, but keep the guys off the board. That’s the same for all the other 29 teams in the league [because] they are so tenacious.’’

The Bulls could use more scoring from the post; Noah, Asik and Gibson all struggle in that area. But they are defensive anchors. Noah and Gibson can defend multiple
positions, and Asik has become proficient at defending the rim.
The trio has combined for 51 blocked shots.

‘‘In practice, he and I really go at it with Booz and Joakim,’’ Gibson
said of Asik. ‘‘It’s a great thing
going out there with a guy who will battle with you, knowing that if
you get beat .  .  . he’s going to hold you down. That’s the kind of mind-set I love. I love playing with guys like that.’’

Thibodeau has said Boozer and Noah will continue to start. When it comes to the fourth quarter, though, it’s a matter of who is most effective.

‘‘They’re having a great season,’’ Deng said of Gibson and Asik. ‘‘They are always consistent. They’re not so much worried about their offense; they come in and play great defense and rebound for us. They’ve been able to really change games.’’

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