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updated: 3/24/2014 11:37 PM

Bulls' Gibson bounces back in a big way

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  • The Bulls' Taj Gibson celebrates after his dunk off a rebound during the second half of Monday night's victory over the Pacers.

      The Bulls' Taj Gibson celebrates after his dunk off a rebound during the second half of Monday night's victory over the Pacers.
    Associated Press

 
 

While Joakim Noah was leading the cheers Monday night, Taj Gibson focused on using his inner fire toward positive means.

Gibson turned in one of his worst games of the season Friday when the Bulls lost at Indiana, fouling out in just 22 minutes, while counterpart Luis Scola scored 19 points.

Gibson successfully reversed the outcome in the rematch at the United Center. He scored 23 points, and the Bulls broke open a defensive struggle in the third quarter to produce an 89-77 victory.

"They were really dominating us in the last game, especially on the glass, and they were laughing," Gibson said in the locker room. "It's frustrating when you're playing against a team that's similar to you and they're like your rival and they're slapping fives and laughing in your face. We take too much pride in rebounding the ball and playing solid basketball."

A few months ago it was difficult to imagine a Bulls team thriving with Gibson the leading scorer and Noah the best passer. During the past two months, that's exactly what has happened. Gibson is the team's top scorer since Feb. 1, while Noah led the Bulls in assists for the 10th time in the last 11 games.

That success is why Gibson had both the confidence and anger to turn around his poor performance.

"I didn't like how I played last game," he said. "Like Thibs tells me, he says, 'You're getting a lot of team's attention now. They're trying to take you out. You've got to be aggressive. This is another step in your development.'

"I took advantage of it tonight. I was frustrated. I didn't like how Scola had 19 points in 20 minutes. I didn't like that at all. I just want to come out, have a better showing on defense, and the offense just came to me."

The Bulls' best highlight of the night came late in the third quarter. Kirk Hinrich somehow took the ball away from Pacers star Paul George on a fastbreak opportunity. Hinrich pushed the ball the other way and Jimmy Butler missed the initial shot, but Gibson soared in for the classic two-handed rebound, one-handed dunk.

That play got the crowd so energized, Indiana coach Frank Vogel called a timeout. George pleaded for a foul after Hinrich's steal, but it appeared he just got careless with the ball, slowing down on the way to the hoop.

"I got back and thought about fouling and the ball kind of presented itself, so I just put my hand on the ball," Hinrich said. "I think he thought I was going to foul him. It was just fortunate, with him barreling down on me and the type of athlete he is, it's usually not good."

Hinrich added 18 points and continued to shoot the ball well, hitting 7 of 13 attempts Monday. The Bulls (40-31) got off to a slow start, shooting 27 percent from the field in the first quarter and trailing 34-33 after a slow-moving first half.

But when the third quarter began, the rim seemed to widen. The Bulls hit 10 of their first 12 shots in the second half, eventually opening a 55-43 lead on Hinrich's 3-pointer with 5:20 left. Indiana (51-20) got within 6 points a few times in the fourth quarter but never made a serious run.

"I'm just happy we won," said Noah, who collected 10 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists. "Every game is different. Every game has its problems. Indiana's a physical team. They play very good defense. We're very similar in a lot of ways.

"I'm just happy we could prove to ourselves we can compete with anybody in the East. That's exciting to me."

The Pacers missed a chance to clinch the Central Division title. That's going to happen eventually, but Indiana is 5-7 in its last 12 games and plays Miami on Wednesday with a 2-game lead for the best record in the East.

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com

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