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Gibson not defensive, though just this time
by Sam Smith
Posted on Feb 18
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One time, nearly a decade ago, the Bulls were trying to acquire Kevin Garnett.
Not to say they have him now, and certainly not his verbal assaults. But Taj Gibson says he’s enjoying playing the Garnett role in the Bulls defense, which, for the record, is better than Boston’s this season. And though no one is saying so, it could provide perhaps the matchup of the playoffs if the Bulls and Celtics, as some suspect, end up playing a second round playoff series.
“When I watch KG, I think about what Thibs (coach Tom Thibodeau) wants us to do,” said Gibson. “He wants us to be vocal. I like to look at KG and he’s always making the (defensive) calls from the back: ‘Soft, high pick-and-roll, show.’ That’s what our defense is all about, the bigs making the play calls.
“I look at KG on film and see how he plays, makes the play calls. That’s what Thibs has you do,” said Gibson. “That’s the level you want to get to, championship caliber. It doesn’t matter what people think about him. He’s a team player and they won a ring. That’s where we want to get. They are where we want to be at.
“What Thibs tells the team is, ‘The bigs are never wrong.’ We have to negotiate the defense. We negotiate with the guards to go over screens, go under, sag back. And he lets us play. His mind set is to be aggressive on defense, don’t let anyone get easy offense or cuts to the basket. He wants us to feel contact.
“Maybe the first 20 games of the season it was a tough adjustment,” Gibson conceded. “But of late we really feel we’re getting very much better. He says he really wants to hear it from us, hear us talking from where he is on the bench. The thing is, though, as soon as the game starts he sits down. The first mess up he stands up the whole game and you’re in for it.”
Gibson Friday talked before playing for the sophomores in the rookie-sophomore game. It was his second appearance, and a bit of a rarity for All-Star weekend, given it made it back to back games for him. Though since the game is mostly lobs dunks and not the effort required in the Bulls defense, Gibson could float.
Though he did as he promised his teammates and shot a three pointer in the rookies’ gruesome 148-140 win over Gibson’s sophomores. Gibson played just 18 minutes, second fewest on his team. He had eight points and two rebounds in the dysfunctional affair, though he did have a block for Thibodeau’s sake.
“I was running, playing, but no defense,” laughed Gibson. “We would have had a long film session on closeouts (if we played like this). He would have been (upset). There was no help side defense. Nobody wanted to get dunked on. I know I wasn’t helping.
“I said I was gonna go for the three,” said Gibson. “My teammates said to go for it. I’ve got to work on that three a little bit more. Maybe tomorrow in the (shooting stars contest). Steve Kerr told me he hasn’t taken a shot in so long. I’m a little nervous. I told him I was working on the three in practice. Thibs is letting me shoot it.”
Gibson said he was grateful to get the opportunity again to play, which I did remind him tied an NBA record since he played the maximum two rookie-sophomore games. And for being recognized by the coaches who selected the team even with his reduced role with the Bulls this season.
“I know there are a lot of good players in he league,” said Gibson. “I’m just happy and blessed to be able to make it again given my role has changed.
“Thibs said to go out there and have fun with it because it’s a great experience and something you’ll remember your whole life,” Gibson related.
Gibson also took Carlos Boozer’s role as player representative for the weekend and is to attend the labor meetings to report back to the team.
“The guys were saying, ‘Taj can do it,’ so I’ll ask some questions and get information about what is going on and tell the guys,” said Gibson.
Just talking, which is a major part of the defense Thibodeau has brought to the Bulls and which was so successful with the Celtics. It focuses a lot on communication, like all great defenses, but relies on the back line players to keep in contact with the guards and wing players and act as a sort of quarterback, which make sense given the back line guys can see the floor and the play developing.
Gibson said he’s confident the Bulls defense will get even better with the return Wednesday of the active Joakim Noah, though Derrick Rose sees Noah’s return as much a chance to return more to an uptempo, fast break game, the kind of game that perhaps a team like Boston won’t want to see in the playoffs.
No one can afford to overlook the first round with teams like the 76ers playing well. But the second round is setting up with some delicious matchups with the Nos. 2 and No. 3 seeds lining up, and many speculating now that will be the Bulls and Celtics. There’s no way of knowing. But Thibodeau is preparing the Bulls much like he did the Celtics, and it has been impressive thus far.
Gibson, for one, says he’s enthused about the defensive changes this season, even with his changed role. Still, Gibson said he was proud Thibodeau came to him Thursday and asked him to shut down Matt Bonner after Bonner burned the Bulls with threes in the November Spurs won. Bonner didn’t hit a field goal Thursday.
Gibson said another of the changes in the core of the defense he most enjoys is the increased switching the team does, generally switching all the bigs and, at times, even switching bigs and smalls so Gibson plays some guards as well.
“Thursday we basically were switching one through four,” said Gibson. “But we switch a lot one through five, too. He has the mentality of wanting us to play tough and very aggressive. He had confidence in me. I was pleased with that and feel I can adapt to any role. My role now is to come in and play off the bench, provide defense and scoring and bring energy. I like the switching we do. Putting me on someone like Bonner shows the confidence he has in me and it worked.
“Thibs has added toughness to our defense,” Gibson said. “The mentality is, ‘Don’t let anyone come in and embarrass us.’ We make the hit first and play aggressive and make them in for a long battle in the paint and on defense.”
The Bulls came out to do that in Thursday’s seminal win over the Spurs, and it wasn’t just Rose whom Thibodeau was pushing.
It was everyone.
“Before the start of the game Thibs came in the locker room, first time he’s ever done anything like that, and he talked to everyone individually,” said Gibson. “He wanted everyone to go hard: Leave it all on the court. I haven’t seen that from him the whole season. He pointed guys out and said, ‘You do a better job (on him). You do this. You do that.’ He was encouraging guys, saying things like, ‘I know you’re gonna do a better job than that player over there. I’ve got faith in you.’
“Guys,” Gibson said, “went out and responded.”
And like Gibson believes, it’s only going to get better. It could be a very interesting spring.