Taj Gibson, Thibodeau grow up in Bulls’ big win over Atlanta Hawks

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In the wake of the Bulls’ big Game 5 win, here are two important developments that ought to serve the Bulls well as they move forward.

1. The Carlos Boozer controversy is going to heat up, but it shouldn’t.

The Boozer bashers are going to clamor for Taj Gibson to be on the floor more. That’s understandable after Taj played a monster fourth quarter, delivering 11 points and uncountable energy.

But that doesn’t mean Taj should play ahead of Boozer, who brings different things to the equation. Where Taj is more mobile, Boozer is a better post presence. He’s also a veteran who’s going to give you what he’s got. Better to let Taj dart in than to put the weight of the world on him from the start.

Especially because he’s banged up, Boozer might not effective in some situations. That’s fine. Then you go to Gibson. But Boozer is the first option. When he and Derrick Rose are in synch offensively, that’s big for the Bulls. And Boozer vs. say, Miami, is a whole different deal than Boozer vs. Indiana or Atlanta.

Interestingly, Boozer doesn’t seem at all threatened by the rise of Taj. Then again, $15 million a year is a nice security blanket.

2. By playing Gibson, Ronnie Brewer and Omer Asik with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, Tom Thibodeau showed me a lot.

Long apprenticeship or not, he’s still a rookie head coach who has been more secure with predictable veterans, as evidenced by his increasing reluctance to go to his bench since the playoffs began.

Against the athletic and skilled but spacy Hawks, the bench gambit was absolutely the right move. The Bulls’ reserves not only had young, fresh legs. Their energy gave the Bulls a boost when they needed it most.

Make no mistake. When we look back at the fourth quarter of Game 5, it will loom large, perhaps the pivotal moment in this playoff run. Lose that quarter, and you’re heading to Atlanta down 3-2, your backs to the wall. Lose Game 6, and this season ends with a very bad taste.

By winning Tuesday, though, the Bulls not only put themselves in the drivers’ seat.

We also learned that Thibs, who always insists that “We don’t have to change a thing,” is flexible after all, and that’s very good.

It wasn’t easy for him to rely on Gibson, Brewer and Asik, but it was the right move–and it showed that Thibodeau is growing, too.

After the game, I asked him to talk about that fourth quarter, and what it said about his team that three reserves could shoulder the load like that.

His answer: “It’s the playoffs. You’re going to be in tight quarters. You have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. We hung tough. We stayed together. We got some timely baskets and we got some stops. I thought the energy of that group was really good.”

As I think about it the morning after, when Thibs said, “You have to get comfortable being uncomfortable,” I have to think he was talking about himself as well as his players.

He put his post-season in the hands of young bench guys, who had delivered all season, but had been largely ignored in the post-season.

That was more than a big step for Thibodeau. It was a sign of growth that’s very encouraging for whatever the Bulls confront during the rest of this playoff march.

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