CHICAGO | Taj Gibson, you're starting tonight.
"I'm ready, coach."
Taj Gibson, you're coming off the bench tonight.
"Sure thing, coach."
Taj Gibson, you're guarding Dwight Howard AND James Harden tonight. Then run out at halftime and get me a Starbucks.
"No sweat, coach."
The Bulls' 6-foot-9 forward does it all as he proved recently by filling in for injured starter Carlos Boozer with very little drop-off in talent.
"Taj has given us balance," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He's got a good mix with his post game, duck ins, offensive rebounding, the face up, the pick and roll.
"Taj has been very, very good."
With Boozer older now and more injury-prone, Gibson is like 4-wheel drive in deep snow. He makes the Bulls go.
"I've been doing that a whole lot lately," said Gibson, averaging 12.9 points and 6.5 rebounds this season and 19.3 points and 9.8 rebounds in his eight starts. "I'm just having fun. I don't care whether or not I start. I'm having fun helping my teammates and doing what I need to do.
"If I score, I score. If I get defensive stops, that's big. It helps us win games and that's all I want to do."
Most fans would prefer to have Gibson, not the often-erratic Boozer, team up with center Joakim Noah on that no-quit front line. Maybe it's because the Bulls were 5-1 without Boozer.
"Taj is playing great basketball," Noah said. "He's a load down in the post and he's hungry. We wouldn't be in this position if it weren't for Taj."
That "position" is currently battling Toronto, of all teams, for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. The two square off tonight.
It can be said Gibson is having a breakout year in this, his fifth season, and versatility is the reason. He's the Manu Ginobili of the Bulls, able to start or relieve and be effective at both.
"The advantage to starting is you're not sitting on the bench and getting cold," Gibson said. "But I can adapt to whatever role the coach gives me.
"That's part of being a pro. You just do your job and be happy you're in the NBA, man."
We get that do-your-job line from Thibodeau at least a dozen times after every game, win or lose, so I'm glad his players are paying attention.
Boozer will start again tonight against the surprising Raptors and Gibson is fine with returning to the pines.
He watched Kyle Korver do that three years ago, and then Nate Robinson last season. He asked questions, kept a mental notebook, and it has paid off.
"In my years as a pro, I've figured out my routine. I know how to get going whether I start or come off the bench," Gibson said. "Not a lot of players can really do that."
Thibodeau claims the Bulls have enough to win. I know. You're tired of hearing that. But they're in your face, start to finish, and there's no pacing on this team.
"The way 'Tibs' coaches us, we're gonna fight until the last man's standing," Gibson said. "We got that mentality."
That's all very noble, and true, but Chicago lacks the manpower to go deep in the playoffs. It will win an early series, then the bottom will fall out.
Remember the Alamo?