He expected it, but Taj Gibson still had to laugh about finding himself huffing and puffing after his first time downcourt in his preseason debut after ankle surgery.
“To tell you the truth, my heart was beating so fast,” Gibson said. “I was too hyped, my first play down I couldn’t catch my breath.”
Fred Hoiberg saw all he needed to see in 10 minutes of Gibson’s return, as the veteran scored four points, making two of his three shots and grabbing a couple of boards.
“Taj was good his first time out,” Hoiberg said.
Hoiberg wasn’t happy about much in the Bulls’ 114-91 loss to the Pistons, but seeing Gibson out there, displaying his usual spunk had to please him on some level. Gibson battled through excruciating pain in the postseason, then found out after he had torn ligaments in his left ankle that hindered his athleticism and mobility defensively.
After going though a decent amount of practices and scrimmages, playing in an actual game was a test for him. He hit a baseline jumper and was active around the glass, so it’s a step forward in the recovery process.
“It was fun, being able to touch the ball for the first time in a long time, after rehab and a lot of work over the summer,” he said. “It just felt good to be out there.”
Gibson isn’t going to push himself too much too soon, especially considering the marathon that is the NBA season being two weeks away and the end of the season being at least two trimesters away.
“It responded good,” said Gibson, referring to the ankle. “Just getting my legs back under me. The coaching staff kept me in tune. They were proud of me, understanding it’s a long process of rehab and pushing through a lot of late nights. It was fun just to be out there.”
With Bobby Portis emerging, the Bulls don’t have to rush Gibson to make sure the valuable reserve is ready to play 30 minutes a night in November.
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But if the Bulls plan on using their big lineup in some form, with Nikola Mirotic playing small forward, either Portis or Gibson should be playing power forward to add some athleticism and speed to the lineup.
“Yeah, every night Bobby comes in,” Gibson said. “I already see his determination. He gets up shots late. I come in late at night too and he’s always in here. Scrimmages and practices, he’s always listening to me.”
He also made his voice heard when discussing the state of the defense, which hasn’t been to anybody’s satisfaction thus far. Jimmy Butler voiced his concerns after Monday’s game against New Orleans, and the Bulls were still a step or three slower than their usual standards Wednesday.
“It’s our defense it’s too…it’s lackadaisical,” Gibson said. “We’ve got guys who are capable of doing a lot better. Speaking as a veteran, we got to do a lot better as a team.”
“Young guys have to lock in a lot better and that’s our fault, we have to challenge them in practice. These things are correctable. Our offense has been great. I saw it out there it was wide open. It takes time, we got a lot of games, a couple more practices out there. We’ll look at the film and it’ll tell us what we need to do.”
But at least his ankle isn’t in the back of his mind, so he can perform to as close to peak efficiency as his own standards have shown.
“It feels a lot stronger. No pain,” Gibson said. “I feel I’m jumping a lot better, a lot higher. Just having fun. My teammates are just making it fun again.”