Taj Gibson charged the Bulls' 112-107 victory over the Suns on Saturday night with an active performance that sparked a 10-0 fourth-quarter run and featured 10 fourth-quarter points on 5-for-5 shooting with stellar defense to boot.
Then Gibson might have re-charged the Bulls' up-and-down campaign with a heart-on-his-sleeve postgame unburdening that recalled the grit and spirit of recent seasons.
At the very least, Gibson, who revealed he has played through a grade-two ligament tear in his left hand for a month, reminded all about the passion and the purpose with which he plays, ingredients that the Bulls have lacked too often in a mostly joyless season despite their solid won-lost record.
"There was a lot of speculation saying that I'm frustrated," Gibson said about his role behind Pau Gasol. "I'm not that kind of guy. Whatever team I'm on, whatever teammates I have, I'm team-first. I've never been a guy focused on shots. I've never been a guy focused on minutes. I'm about winning and trying to win a championship.
"It was frustrating for people to speculate that and put that in my character. That never has been my character. I've always been a team-first guy. I would never be like that."
Gibson, who finished with 12 points and four offensive rebounds, was just getting warmed up.
"There's a lot at stake here. It's big. It's bigger than everybody on this team," he said. "We understand that we have what it takes to win a championship. Not many players can say they've been on a championship-caliber team almost every year since (coach Tom Thibodeau) has been here. I appreciate it and just have to keep pushing."
Gibson said he suffered the hand injury during the Jan. 19 loss at Cleveland. He didn't say anything publicly until Saturday so he wouldn't tip off teams to whack him in the post, which they did anyway.
"It was severe," Gibson said. "Doctors didn't know what we could do. They put a big cast on my hand. Oh man, I don't wish that on anybody. But it's kind of almost healed up now. (Thibs) said, 'Never give a team any kind of uphill trigger point on you to try to slow your game down.' That's why I always remained quiet and whatever happens, whatever criticism I take, that's what I'm going to take."
As for the gimpy ankles that Gibson has sprained repeatedly, costing him eight games already this season?
"That's never going to go away," Gibson said. "The doctors told me that's basically going to go away probably after the season is done. I said, 'Doc, whatever it takes. Just bandage me up. I'm going to get my treatment and do what I can on the court.' No excuses. Try to help my team any way I can."
No wonder Thibodeau said this: "Everyone talks about having a warrior mentality. Well Taj does. He has a lot of toughness.''
Gibson bristled at speculation he pouted about not starting after the Bulls signed Gasol to replace Carlos Boozer, on whom the Bulls used the amnesty provision.
"Think about it: I've been coming off the bench behind talented players most of my career — Tyrus Thomas, Boozer, now Pau," Gibson said. "Ain't nothing going to change. Go out there, do my job. Whatever minutes I get, play hard and take my shots when they come."
With injuries, minutes restrictions and uneven play, this has been a disjointed season. Gibson's words were the unifying type.
"One thing about this team: We really care about each other," he said. "There's never any animosity. I really appreciate playing with guys like this. When I heard all the speculation about me being frustrated, it was frustrating me because I've never been that type of player. My teammates have been great to me. They understood what was going on. We're a family. We keep things close."