By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) — After Thursday’s win to keep pace in the playoff race, Bulls forward Taj Gibson took a moment to explain the difference between being injured and being hurt. There’s no discussion to be had when you’re injured, no option other than to sit out.
In Gibson’s eyes, being hurt means you have something to give, and when circumstances dictate, you do everything in your power to give that, however big or little the contribution may be.
Gibson keeps giving and giving and giving for the Bulls.
In Chicago’s 92-85 victory against Utah at the United Center on Saturday evening as he continued to play through a bothersome hamstring injury, Gibson had 15 points, a game-high 10 rebounds and several rants directed at teammates, in huddles and notably at halftime when he was “pissed” at missed assignments on the defensive end, in the words of coach Fred Hoiberg. Whatever the vibe, Gibson’s vocal leadership coincided with the Bulls allowing their fewest points since Jan. 23, as they held the Jazz to 41 percent shooting and an 8-of-27 showing from 3-point range.
“It was great,” Gibson said. “We challenged each other. That’s the whole thing. Great teams and great players just respond well when guys are getting after them. We held each other accountable. Some words were said, and we responded. That’s part of basketball. When you’re around each other 24/7, it kind of gets a little tight. But like I said, we’re a family. There’s ups and downs. We’re going to ride this thing out. We’re going to play together. Like I said, when things are being said, guys have to respond, and tonight it was a great feeling that guys took what I said and responded.”
Gibson didn’t reveal exactly what his halftime message was, though teammate Doug McDermott said it was directed at younger players like himself for not being on the same page defensively.
“Taj is a guy, every once in a while, he’ll get on us, snap on us kind of hard,” McDermott said. “I think we need that from him. I think we need it more to be honest, because I think everyone responded really well.
The 30-year-old Gibson, who’s spent his entire seven-year career in Chicago, has one of the most respected voices in the Bulls locker room. That’s a testament to engaging personality, his penchant for playing while hurt and a team-first attitude that was marked by never complaining as he toiled for many years coming off the bench despite starter-caliber skill.
It’s just in these last two seasons that Gibson feels he’s really gotten on teammates more.
“I’m more of a doer,” Gibson said. “I’m not really a guy that mostly likes to talk, but … I have to, I really have to. Just being around and having experience in tough games, I have to help the young guys out.”
Saturday’s win allowed the Bulls to keep pace in the playoff race, as at 35-33, they’re tied with the Pistons (36-34) for the eighth and final playoff spot. Those two teams are a half-game back of the seventh-place Pacers, while the Wizards lurk one-and-a-half games back in 10th.
For the Bulls to make the playoffs, which they’ve done every year in Gibson’s career, they’ll need to continue to respond like they did Saturday.
“They didn’t take what I said too seriously, because they still gave me a hug afterward,” Gibson said. “It’s good to know that when guys put pressure on you, of guys saying certain things, it’s just important guys take it and respond. It doesn’t mean anything bad. It’s just that I want guys to do well. I want what’s best for my teammates, and I see things most people don’t see in them. And I want everyone to really succeed.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.