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Carlos Boozer’s issues are boosting Taj Gibson’s stock

Taj GibsJermaine O'Neal

Taj Gibson, Jermaine O'Neal

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Updated: February 7, 2014 9:17PM



SAN FRANCISCO ­— Joakim Noah doesn’t just hand out compliments — you have to earn his respect.

Asked about the player that teammate Taj Gibson has become for the Bulls this season, Noah smiled and said two words: ‘‘Hard hat.’’

Basically, the anti-Carlos Boozer.

The differences between Boozer and Gibson have showed up again on this West Coast trip. Boozer, right or wrong, made headlines earlier this week by letting it be known he was unhappy with his playing time, or lack thereof, in the fourth quarters of games.

Complaints like that are rarely voiced under coach Tom Thibodeau, and Thibodeau was brutally honest in explaining that performance was why Boozer was sitting for Gibson when games were on the line.

Then came Thursday night in Oakland and a key game of the six-game trip against the Golden State Warriors. Boozer, coincidentally fresh off some late-game heroics with a key basket in a win over the Phoenix Suns two nights earlier, injured himself warming up before the introductory run-out.

‘‘Sort of a freakish sort of thing,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘[He] was jumping around before the game in the locker room getting ready to come out and tweaked something in his calf.’’

It’s the same calf that cost Boozer games last month, so don’t be surprised if he’s going to miss some time.

Thibodeau grabbed Gibson just minutes before the game and let him know he was starting.

Gibson responded with 26 points and 13 rebounds in 46 minutes in the loss. He continues to make the amnesty option on Boozer this offseason easier to swallow.

‘‘I’ve just been continuing to work on my game,’’ Gibson said of his growth as a scorer this season. ‘‘I feel like I can still get a lot better to help my team. But the thing for me is I don’t even worry about the points. I worry about what I can do to help my team win. Learn from each game, and move on.’’

When Thibodeau talks about his players ‘‘staying in that circle,’’ Gibson is dead center. Ask him if he’d rather start than come off the bench and he doesn’t care. Ask him about being on the court in crunch time and he’s not concerned. His career-best 12.5 points per game this season is an afterthought.

Why?

‘‘Because I’m a pro,’’ Gibson said. ‘‘I appreciate being in the NBA. I appreciate wearing a Chicago Bulls jersey. I just go out there and do my job, and however many minutes I get, I’m going to be cheering. If I have to go out there and start, I’m going to try and do my job the best way I can. Try and keep getting better.

‘‘Every day in the NBA is fun. I have freedom when I’m out there playing. The opponents respect me as far as what I do out there.’’

His teammates and coach aren’t far behind.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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