Gibson had six points on 3-of-6 shooting, zero rebounds and zero blocks. The Bulls were down by 10 points, and Gibson’s play was part of the problem.
The Bulls lacked their usual energy, and that was apparent by the fact Pistons center Andre Drummond had 22 rebounds, just two fewer than the Bulls, after three quarters.
Gibson went out looking to upgrade his game in the final 12 minutes, and that led to the Bulls’ game being upped, too. He scored 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting, grabbed four rebounds, including three on offense, and blocked three shots in the fourth quarter. His efforts excited the crowd and sparked the Bulls to a 106-98 comeback win at the United Center.
The Bulls overcame an 18-point halftime deficit, marking their largest come-from-behind win of the season. And in doing so, they capitalized on a Toronto Raptors’ loss and moved into sole possession of third place in the Eastern Conference.
The Bulls’ comeback began in the third quarter, as they cut the Pistons’ lead to 10 point. But it was Gibson who propelled the Bulls with a series of energy plays in the fourth quarter.
With the Bulls down 83-77, Gibson rejected a jumper by Kyle Singler in the lane. D.J. Augustin scored at the other end and the Bulls were down four. Two Pistons’ possessions later, Jonas Jerebko had his shot swatted by Gibson.
Gibson later pushed the Bulls ahead 88-83 when he scored at the rim while being fouled, then converted his free throw. On the Bulls’ next possession, he hustled to a loose ball, just beating Jerebko to it, and knocked it out with one hand to the top of the key for the Bulls to retrieve it.
To cap it off, Gibson grabbed an offensive rebound off a Joakim Noah miss, then got another offensive rebound off another Noah miss and threw down a two-handed dunk to put the Bulls ahead 92-86 and forcing the Pistons into a timeout.
“When you make effort plays like that, and those were big-time, multiple-effort plays -- block shots, offensive rebounding in traffic, finishing -- that does nothing but inspire your team,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “That sort of ignited us.”
Gibson’s intention in the fourth quarter was to find simpler ways to produce.
“I just tried to attack the basket,” Gibson said. “Sometime when your layup or jump shot doesn’t work, you got to try to attack the basket. I just tried to make plays on the ball, especially rebounding. I didn’t have a strong rebounding night. It just came to me. I kept being aggressive, and that’s what you’re going to need in the fourth a lot.”
Bulls center Noah was disappointed with his own effort on Friday, especially in containing Drummond, who finished with 26 points and 26 rebounds. But he was grateful to have Gibson step up as he did.
“Taj is somebody who sacrifices a lot for this team,” Noah said.
Even though the Bulls are now in control of their own destiny in the third seed, Thibodeau didn’t want his players to start thinking about the larger picture, yet.
“The big thing is to concentrate on improvement and get ready,” Thibodeau said. “If you go step by step, everything takes care of itself. We can’t look ahead at other things and get distracted.
“I think we have a good understanding of what goes into winning, and if you keep your eyes on that and know your opponent well, put in the necessary work into winning, the results will be good.”