Bulls' Rip Hamilton gradually finding stroke

Bulls' Rip Hamilton gradually finding stroke

Rip Hamilton missed five of his six shots from the field in the first half of Thursday night’s come-from-behind 93-86 victory over the Boston Celtics, but the veteran shooting guard clanked wide-open jumpers that were easily makeable for him, and he knew it.

A player who has a reputation as a knock-down jump shooter, Hamilton’s stroke has been off the mark in the last two games since he sat out 14 straight due to an injured right shoulder, on which he will wear a protective pad for the rest of the season.

Still, even after Hamilton’s 1-for-6 shooting performance in the first two quarters, it was apparent he was moving around much better – the 6-foot-7 product had a one-handed dunk in the first frame and is confident he is over the lower-body injuries (groin, thigh) that plagued him earlier in the season – and simply missed shots he has drained throughout his 13-year career.

“In the first half, I was able to get to any spot on the floor I wanted to get to but just couldn’t make the shot,” Hamilton told reporters after the game. “… You hate to miss shots, but each game I get a little better.”

Despite his first-half struggles, Hamilton poured in seven of his nine points in the decisive, game-changing third quarter, when the Bulls outscored the Celtics 29-17 to erase an 11-point halftime deficit. He knocked down 3-of-5 shots – all of which jumpers – during the third period, and one game after committing a game-high five turnovers in Monday night’s lackluster 99-93 loss to the Houston Rockets, he did not have a miscue against the Celtics, who had either Rajon Rondo or Ray Allen on Hamilton for most of the night.

As Hamilton continues to shake off the rust he developed having missed almost a month, he is working his way into the flow of the Bulls’ offense. He has logged 20 minutes in each of the last two games and has hit one three-pointer and dished out three assists in both.

Hamilton has had moments this season in which he has played exactly how Chicago fans envisioned when the team signed him early in training camp. He has played in five consecutive games just once this season, but that late January stretch has been his best of the season. He scored in double figures in each contest and had a combined 59 points in the last three.

Now, the Bulls hope Hamilton can stay in the lineup. He is confident that he’s in stellar basketball shape and will be able to come through in spite of his hurt right shoulder.

For Hamilton, it’s all about finding a groove in time for the playoffs. That will take some patience, but the Bulls know they are a much better team – and will be the high-octane one Carlos Boozer talked about after Thursday’s win – when Hamilton is healthy and aggressive.

“I thought he was very good,” coach Tom Thibodeau said of Hamilton Thursday. “He had a very good practice [Wednesday]. His legs are coming around; he’s lively. I think his timing is still not quite there. I thought he came out in the second half and was very aggressive, so that’s a good sign. It’s another step forward for him.”

Added Hamilton: “Everything is timing with me right now. We don’t get that opportunity in practice to play five-on-five. Tonight, I was able to get to my bread and butter. If I can get to certain spots on the floor, I expect to make them. I missed them, and it frustrates me. But it’s one of those things – I expect to make every time I shoot it.”

He’s reaching that point, slowly, but surely.

Chicago getting best of Bulls-Celtics rivalry: After the Bulls dropped their first two games against the Boston Celtics in the Thibodeau era, they have won five of the last six matchups between the two clubs, including taking this season’s series 3-1.

Joakim Noah seems to always play with an added edge against the Celtics and was probably the happiest player among the Bulls after Thursday’s win, telling TNT’s Craig Sager in an on-court post-game interview: “It always feels good to win against Boston. But we know they’re a good team. I’m not going to lie; beating Boston, there’s nothing better.”

“Anytime Boston comes in here, you want to win,” the Bulls’ emotional center added when speaking to the assembled media. “We’re a team that wants to win every time we stop onto the court … so it just felt good to play hungry basketball.”

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