The third time was the charm for the Bulls, having failed their previous two times this year to hit the .500, for the first time since they were 7-7 on Nov. 27. They did so as Taj Gibson’s lefty layup with .9 remaining left his hands as time expired gave them a 102-100 overtime victory against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The layup capped a 9-2 run by the Bulls (20-20) after the Lakers had scored five straight to begin the extra frame.
Gibson, said he was initially in shocked when his number was called for the play, but it only goes to show the amount of trust coach Tom Thibodeau has placed in him this season with the work he’s put in and the level at which he’s played.
“You try to designate one person as the primary guy,” Thibodeau said. “The play was designated for Taj. You don’t have a lot of time in that situation. It’s a quick read. "Mike (Dunleavy) made a great play on it to throw the ball up so Taj didn't have to go down and up. You need everyone to sell the play."
It was sold to perfection as Gibson had Lakers’ guard Manny Harris pinned to his back and a clear shot at the rim. “They always crack jokes on me in practice about trying to use my left and today I proved them wrong,” Gibson said, beaming at the recollection of his first game-winner at any level.
D.J. Augustin scored 20 points in the second half for a team-high 27 points. Joakim Noah recorded his team-leading 17th double-double of the season with 17 points and a season-high 21 rebounds. It’s the 13th straight game that he’s pulled down 10 or more rebounds, which is the longest streak of his career.
The Bulls forced the Lakers into 22 turnovers that they turned into 25 points. They also outrebounded their opponent 55-47.
“I think we’re playing pretty well right now. We just have to keep getting better, keep grinding,” Noah said. “I think there’s a lot of potential for this team to get even better, especially defensively. I think our offense is pretty good, we just have to play better defensively.”
It looked like the Bulls were on their way to an easy one early on.
After controlling the paint in the first quarter – scoring 24 of their 31 first quarter points inside – the Bulls seemed to go away from that early success inside, scoring just 30 inside the rest of the way.
Entering the fourth, the Bulls trailed 72-69, having never won a game at home when they haven’t had the lead going into the final period.
Pau Gasol and Nick Young did their best to make sure that fact held true scoring 13 of the Lakers 21 in the fourth. Gasol would go on a 6-0 run by himself to put the Bulls down 90-87 with 2:12 remaining.
Augustin’s three-pointer would be followed by a reverse layup by Butler, giving the Bulls a 92-90 edge with 32 seconds remaining. After Lakers’ Nick Young missed an early shot out of timeout, Noah would split a pair at the line with seven seconds remaining. He would then get caught on a switch and foul Young on a three-point attempt and Young would calmly knock all three down.
Noah missed an opportunity a lefty hook as regulation ended.
The Bulls also lost Kirk Hinrich late in the third to a right hamstring injury. If he's to miss any period of time, it would leave Augustin as the only point guard on the team with the trade that will send Marquis Teague to Brooklyn for Tornike (Toko) Shengelia expected to be completed on Tuesday.
Young finished with a game-high 31 points, while Gasol added 20 points and 19 rebounds for the Lakers.
With the win, the Bulls also move a game and a half behind the Atlanta Hawks, who currently own the third best record in the Eastern Conference.
“That’s been our goal, to keep picking at teams in the East,” Augustin said. “A lot of teams are kind of sleeping on us. They don’t think we can do anything with all the injuries we had and guys getting traded and things like that. So, we feel like anybody we have on the floor, we can unite and win a game.”