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Taj Gibson’s relationship with Thibodeau helps fuel breakthrough

Updated: April 29, 2014 12:07AM

Not all players develop at the same pace. Some take time to nurture. Some require a slow walk. Some need a push.

Taj Gibson needed all three.

But make no mistake, he has arrived. He walked up to the door and kicked it open with the same ferocity and primal scream he attacks the rim with. Finally, Gibson has embraced his place in the organization.

“I think everyone is learning about Taj Gibson,’’ Bulls guard Jimmy Butler said over the weekend. “He’s making sure of that.’’

Little has gone right for the Bulls in their first-round meeting with the Washington Wizards. They’re down 3-1 in the best-of-seven series, they look exhausted and they aren’t winning many matchups.

Then there’s Gibson.

The Sixth Man of the Year candidate is averaging 19.8 points and 6.8 rebounds in the series. In
Game 4 on Sunday, he shot 13-for-16 from the field and scored a career-high 32 points.

What’s refreshing about the 6-9 forward/center is that he’s immune to getting caught up in his success. There will be a time when he sits back and weighs whether he has reached the same core status as Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, but it isn’t now as he helps the Bulls fight to stay alive.

“I’m playing for coach Thibs [Tom Thibodeau], I’m playing for a winning organization,” Gibson said Monday. “Just having that pedigree of being on a team that’s known for winning, you should be good. That’s what is expected here. The Bulls are supposed to have players that become a force.

“But right now, I’m just trying to keep my season going, trying to keep this going for all the right reasons. Like [assistant] coach Mike [Wilhelm] always tells me, I put in the hard work all summer, all year, so don’t stop to admire anything right now. Keep it going. That’s what coach Thibs expects.’’

Gibson hasn’t always been this focused. Much of that had to do with his relationship with Thibodeau, or there lackof, early on.

“I’ve come a long way because early on I wasn’t even talking to Thibs,” said Gibson, who’s in his fifth year. “I couldn’t even say two things to him without feeling different or not right. We couldn’t relate.”

And not just because one man is from the Fort Greene projects in Brooklyn and the other from New Britain, Conn.

It was more about Gibson not feeling worthy.

“[Thibs] was a champion,” Gibson said. “Coach has been around guys like Kevin Garnett, he’s been around Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, and I didn’t know how to get to him. I didn’t feel like I could have easygoing talks with him because he’s so hard-nosed.

“As time went on, he’s been on me each year since the Team USA trials [three years ago], just been on me. But it was good. When I have a bad game, he’s [ticked] at me, and he lets me know. He’ll come and tell me, he’ll tell coach Mike, and the message is the same: He wants the best for me, and that speaks volumes.”

Now Gibson and Thibodeau talk all the time, especially late at the Berto Center when Gibson is shooting and Thibodeau is breaking down film.

“I just feel like this is my place now,’’ Gibson said. “And I’m not looking to let that go anytime soon. It’s been a journey, but I’m here. Now you keep your head down and keep going.’’


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