CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls are not scared of the Indiana Pacers. They think they can beat them every time they hit the floor, and they get angry when they don't. Taj Gibson embodies this attitude, and sounded especially proud of his team's effort in Monday night's 89-77 victory. The veteran forward was frustrated by the way he played in Friday night's loss in Indianapolis -- frustration which spilled over in his postgame comments when he said some Indiana players were "flopping."
Gibson was determined to change his fortunes in this game, setting a tone early on that the rest of his teammates followed. He showed the emotion that has defined the Bulls, and scored 23 points and pulled down eight rebounds in the process.
"We're not scared of anybody, really," Gibson said. "We're really not. It just comes down to guys just playing hard. People don't understand we like a dogfight. We like to be physical. We like the physicality of the game. We're not really focused on guys coming in scoring like 150 points. We're going to wind you down and we're going to fight and you're going to be feeling it the next day. And that's what kind of game it was tonight: It was a dogfight."
Gibson and the Bulls got exactly what they wanted. They thrive off the fact that teams think they can outmuscle them and they scoff at the notion that Indiana is a better team. The reality for the Bulls is that they believe they can knock off the Pacers in a seven-game series should they meet in the playoffs. A notion that was only strengthened after such a solid performance on Monday.
"We love it," Gibson said of the physical nature of the game. "You see Joakim [Noah] amped. Everyone on our team was amped because if you want to say it's a rivalry -- they're in the Central Division. We're both fighting for the same thing. We both want to get to the championship level and one day hopefully pass the Heat. Both teams are fighting for that and every game is a step to get better. And tonight we took another step to get better."
The Bulls took that step by being the aggressor in the second half. They knocked the Pacers in the mouth and didn't allow them to set the type of tone they had on Friday. For Gibson, that meant bringing his passion to both ends of the floor and staying out of foul trouble, something he didn't accomplish the last time around.
"Every game is different," Noah said. "But I knew Taj wanted that game bad. I said right after [Friday's] game, 'I'm really excited about having an opportunity to play these guys again.' Taj played big for us. Every game is different, but he definitely came with a great mindset and set the tone for us tonight."
In Gibson's mind, the difference was that he was more assertive.
"I just took my looks," he said. "When it came to me, I didn't hesitate. All year long I've been taking my looks. That game, I just didn't come out with my normal spunk I normally do. ... I was frustrated and I was focused. I wanted to play good in the Sixers game [on Saturday], I wanted to play good tonight. I was focused on this game and we all were. I just focused."
Gibson's teammates fed off of the focus he described. As a group, the Bulls wanted this game badly. It was clear from the emotions that Gibson and his teammates displayed all night. They believe they are still the second-best team in the East behind Miami, and they wanted to prove it on Monday.
"You go down the list, every night guys have had different nights where they've upped the level of play of their teammates," Bulls guard Mike Dunleavy said. "So tonight, Taj was that to go along with Jo. But I thought everybody really played well, really brought it, and it was good to see."
Nobody was happier with the result than Gibson. After such a strong season, it was strange to see him play so poorly against an Indiana team he is usually so eager to face. He made sure he didn't make the same mistakes twice -- and he took some extra motivation from the words he heard from Pacers players throughout the night.
"Coming from their bench they were talking so much trash," Gibson said. "And then you've got David West talking trash, you've got [Roy] Hibbert talking trash -- I don't talk trash, I just play my game. I'm not into that. I let the action happen and let it be done with. But I'm not really a talker unless they really want to bring it out of me."
They brought it out of Gibson in a big way Monday, and he delivered with one of his best games of the season.