Despite playing without star point guard Derrick Rose for the third game in a row on Friday night, the Chicago Bulls had more than enough talent to not miss a beat and won by 20 or more points for the second consecutive contest, routing the Cleveland Cavaliers 114-75 at Quicken Loans Arena.
They had five players in double figures, led by Luol Deng's 21 points, and shot 55.4 percent from the field and 6-for-9 from three-point range, racked up 27 assists on 46 field-goals and piled up 50 points in the paint compared to the Cavs' 28. On the other end of the court, coach Tom Thibodeau's defensive-minded squad had their way with the Cavs on the glass, outrebounding the home team 54-38, and set a franchise record with 16 blocks. The Bulls held the Cavs to a meager 30.3 percent from the field and just 39 points in the final three quarters.
Carlos Boozer followed up his 31-point performance Tuesday night against the Phoenix Suns with a double-double -- his third of the season -- of 19 points and 14 rebounds while shooting 9-for-15 from the field in 31 minutes against the Cavs' front line, which received a combined 27 points from the starters. The much-maligned power forward continued to knock down mid-range jumpers as if they were layups, 5-of-7 to be exact, and, like the rest of the team, made crisp passes to find open teammates.
"Tonight, it just seemed like everything was clicking like clock work," Boozer told reporters after the game.
The 6-foot-8 Boozer is in the midst of his best stretch of the season, averaging 18.4 points and 9.6 rebounds while hitting 57.5 percent from the field in his last five games. He had a slow start to the season but is putting up about 16 points and nine boards in 28.5 minutes per game in 13 January contests. Boozer dropped around 20 pounds during the prolonged offseason, and it's starting to show. Over the past couple weeks, he has been running the floor with a purpose and asserting himself in similar fashion to last December and January, when he produced a double-double on a nightly basis. Both he and Joakim Noah again seemed comfortable together on the court. And Boozer's even doing some damage on the defensive end, collecting two blocks and two steals on Friday night, his fifth straight game with a takeaway.
"Carlos has been playing extremely well," Thibodeau said. "He's playing at a very high level: Rebounding the ball well, scoring, making plays. He's playing a complete game. His defense is very good.
"I loved the way we moved the ball to start the game. I thought our offense was terrific. Defensively, I didn't like our first quarter but I thought we picked up as we went along. The rebounding was great. The turnovers (20) -- we got careless in the second half, so that's something we've got to clean up."
Boozer has admittedly been the beneficiary of tremendous point-guard play. In Rose's absence, C.J. Watson made his second start of the season against the Cavs and got the best of rookie Kyrie Irving, whom Rose praised earlier on Friday, posting 15 points on 4-for-8 shooting and seven assists.
Clearly, the 6-foot-2 point guard is not 100 percent. He has favored his left arm since returning from a dislocated left elbow he suffered New Year's Day. Yet, he's battling through the injury and hopes to be fully healthy as the season wears on, most likely in a month or two. Watson's stats are up across the board this season. He's averaging almost 11 points in 20 minutes while shooting 52.4 percent from beyond the arc in eight games.
I spoke to Watson over the summer and it was apparent during the shortened training camp that he was looking to prove that he's prepared for a more enhanced role in Thibodeau's rotation. Indeed, with a year in Chicago under both of their belts, the reigning Coach of the Year has given Watson more minutes and freedom this season -- and it's paying off, especially so with Rose sidelined.
"What you can't overlook is what C.J.'s doing," Thibodeau said. "C.J.'s making us play with a pace. And he's doing a great job of running the game. It's high energy."
At 14-3, the Bulls have the NBA's best record and are playing like a well-oiled team. Obviously, they have all, from Rose to Brian Scalabrine, bought into Thibodeau's message, a rarity in this star-driven league.
"Thibs talked about it after the game, everybody seems like they're in great rhythm," Boozer told the assembled media afterwards. "We're sharing the ball really well, we're seeing what's open, we're taking advantage of mismatches if we have some and then at the same time we're doing a good job pushing the ball in transition, trying to get the easy shot."