Rip says he's healthy, finally gets a shot

Rip Hamilton was pressed into service because of Marco Belinelli foul trouble. Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images

CHICAGO – Disputing his coach's assertion that he is struggling with an injury while wondering aloud about his role, Chicago Bulls guard Richard Hamilton walked that fine line Monday night.

He didn't want to question coach Tom Thibodeau's authority after the Bulls lost 88-65 to the Miami Heat to fall behind 3-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinals, but at the same time the veteran with 5,000 playoff minutes figured all that experience would have given him a chance to play more.

"A lot of stuff in life you don't understand," Hamilton said. "This is what I was brought here for. To not be able to play and help my teammates, it's hard, it's rough. But I try to stay positive. I don't try to rock the boat. I just try be positive with them and let [teammates] know what they need to do out there and things like that. Tonight I got lucky. I got to go out there and play."

He played almost 22 minutes, a total that more than doubled his playing time in the Bulls' previous 10 games of the postseason. He nailed an early 3-pointer and scored 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting.

His appearance in the second quarter was a bit of a surprise because coach Tom Thibodeau said Thursday that Hamilton wasn't "moving great" and that "physically he's not there right now."

A bulging disc in Hamilton's lower back caused him to miss the entire month of March, but he said that injury is way back in his rearview mirror.

"I feel good," he said and then repeated himself for good measure. "I feel good."

Sure, Hamilton isn't what he was when he logged 924 minutes in the 2004 playoffs while winning an NBA championship with the Detroit Pistons and another 1,079 minutes the following year when the Pistons made the NBA Finals.

But Hamilton figured his knowledge of playoff basketball would be utilized for more than 32 minutes in 11 games since these playoffs began.

"One of the biggest things for me is this was the purpose I was brought here for, and when you don't play it makes it harder especially because I love these situations," Hamilton said. "My goal is to win a championship and try to help my teammates, but it was from the sideline. I tried to help Jimmy [Butler] out and help guys out and things like that."

Yet Hamilton, 35 years old and a veteran of 13 NBA seasons, veteran wasn't about to say he was upset.

"Nah, you can't be bitter," Hamilton said. "This league has always been great to me. I have fun enjoying what I love to do, and that's play basketball. Sometimes it's going to go your way and sometimes you can't control it. I couldn't control it so it was like, 'Hey, you just have to deal with it.'"

As for the rust from not playing much, Hamilton tried to blow right through it.

"I have to try and catch a rhythm fast. I've missed a lot of games," he said. "Now I'm thrown in the fire. 'All right, you know what, you don't have time to really think.' You have to play off instincts, and that's what I tried to do tonight is to play off my instincts."

As for whether or not he showed enough to play more in Game 5 on Wednesday in Miami, Hamilton will have to wait and see. But he's used to that by now.

"You never know," he said.