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Midway through the fourth quarter of an intense battle between the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks back on March 12, the United Center crowd rose to their feet to give a rousing standing ovation. I myself was giving a standing ovation by myself in my basement. But it was not to celebrate another amazing Derrick Rose play (although that would come moments later) or a clutch Luol Deng three.
It was to celebrate the incredible hustle and grit of one Taj Gibson.
During a six-minute stretch at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Gibson scored four points and snared FIVE offensive rebounds. It seemed like anytime the Bulls put a shot up, Taj was there to help create another opportunity. And it was after one of those offensive boards that Rose did this.
Gibson finished that game with 15 points and a season-high 13 rebounds, but that performance is just one of a number of great ones he’s put forth in the month of March. While he’s certainly been solid all year, Gibson has stepped his game up as the season has gone on. In March, the reserve power forward is averaging 8.8 points and 6.2 boards on 50 percent shooting in 21.0 minutes per game. He has scored in double-digits six times, including a season-high 19 points in the Bulls’ demolition of the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night. In the prior two months, Taj had reached double figures four times apiece.
For the season, Taj is averaging 7.8 points and 5.1 rebounds on 50.2 percent shooting in 19.8 minutes per game. I know those numbers do not seem like anything special, but you have to look a little deeper to realize just what kind of effect Gibson has on games, because much of his impact comes on the defensive end. That’s often hard to quantify using basic statistics.
To do this, I present some remarkable stats from basketballvalue.com. When Gibson is OFF the court, the Bulls give up 102.14 points per 100 possessions. That’s not terrible by any means, but it’s certainly not great. When Gibson is ON the court, the Bulls give up a paltry 91.23 points per 100 possessions. Just stifling.
Going further, the five-man unit of Lucas/Korver/Deng/Gibson/Asik (which is the Bulls’ top five-man floor unit in terms of minutes that includes Gibson) gives up a ridiculous 77.38 points per 100 possessions. That’s good for second-best in the entire NBA. However, that unit has played more than twice the amount of minutes than the unit that’s ahead of them (Portland’s unit of Felton/Matthews/Wallace/Aldridge/Thomas), so I find the success of the Bulls’ unit to be more impressive.
Some could argue that those numbers are skewed a bit because that unit is often playing against bums. So let’s take a look at when Gibson plays with the starters/during crunch time (which he often does for defensive purposes). The unit of Rose/Brewer/Deng/Gibson/Noah is giving up 81.31 points per 100 possessions (that group is also killing it offensively), and the unit of Rose/Korver/Deng/Gibson/Noah is giving up 90.77 points per 100 possessions. These are obviously smaller sample sizes, but it’s still impressive because the competition is greater.
Now, although it may seem like it, I’m NOT endorsing the benching of Carlos Boozer for Gibson. Boozer is having a very nice season and the Bulls’ offense is better when he’s on the floor. Plus, I think Taj is absolutely perfect in the role that he plays. He brings a ton of energy off the bench and is a huge spark for the “Bench Mob.” And of course, if Boozer is in fact struggling, Tom Thibodeau can always count on Gibson to play big minutes down the stretch.
The way it stands now, both Boozer and Gibson are playing excellent ball. With Boozer scoring at an efficient rate and Gibson coming off the bench to do all the things that he does, the Bulls have a dynamic one-two punch at the four that will be very dangerous come playoff time. If they can continue this type of play against a Miami Heat team that’s rather thin up front, the Bulls may just find themselves in the NBA Finals.