In last season’s Eastern Conference finals, most Chicago fans believed it was imperative for the Bulls to win the matchup at power forward between Carlos Boozer and the Miami Heat’s Chris Bosh. But Bosh clearly got the upper in the Heat’s five-game series win, averaging 23.2 points on 60 percent shooting and 7.6 rebounds to Boozer’s 14.4 points on 40.7 percent shooting and 10.2 rebounds.
However, Boozer came into the 2011-12 training camp in tremendous shape and has played in all 59 games this season. Although his averages of 15.3 points and 8.6 rebounds are well below his career standards, the fact that Boozer has been able to give the Bulls stability night in and night out has not gone unnoticed by coaches, teammates and fans.
Entering Thursday night’s nationally televised game against the Heat, most eyes were on Derrick Rose, who returned from a one-game absence with a sprained right ankle but contributed just two points on 1-for-13 shooting. Still, Bulls fans knew it would be a solid test for Boozer, whom followers of the NBA believe has not played up to his potential at times in key contests.
While C.J. Watson and the “Bench Mob” grabbed the headlines, and deservedly so, Boozer dropped 19 points – his Bulls career-high against the Heat in a regular-season tilt – 11 rebounds and two assists while shooting 9-for-19 from the field in 31 minutes of action as the Bulls pulled out a 96-86 overtime win. The Bulls trailed by double-digits at several points through the first three quarters, but it was Boozer who kept them within striking distance. He made 7-of-15 jumpers and 2-of-4 layups on the night.
Boozer is a two-time All-Star who most likely will not be selected as one again for the remainder of his career. Bosh is a perennial All-Star who made his seventh appearance at the annual showcase in February.
Obviously, Bosh had a solid effort, with 20 points and eight rebounds. But Boozer played him essentially evenly, canceling out the Heat’s perceived advantage at the position – although Joakim Noah started on Bosh before he was replaced by either Omer Asik or Taj Gibson.
“Carlos is playing well,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters after Thursday’s victory. “You need his scoring and you need his rebounding. He’s doing that very consistently for us. He’s had an excellent year. He hasn’t missed a game or a practice, so he’s playing very well for us.”
Will Boozer outplay Bosh on a game-to-game basis over the course of a seven-game series? It’s possible, but the chances are certainly not high. However, can Boozer play at a high level and come close to matching Bosh’s production, like he did Thursday, in a series? Sure; he has much more lift this season than last and has proven late into this campaign that he can go tit-for-tat with Bosh, who hasn't notched a double-double since Feb. 21.
Noah’s flat arc: Among the Bulls, Noah is the one of the few who publicly shares his excitement before facing off against an elite team on national TV. On that stage Thursday, the emotional center posted five points and four rebounds in just 23 minutes of action.
In the second half, Noah excited the game with 5 minutes, 18 seconds left in the third quarter and did not return until the 1 minute, 23 second mark of overtime, albeit for only 22 seconds when he replaced Gibson, who fouled out. Instead, Thibodeau rode Asik, who logged 23 minutes in which he grabbed eight rebounds, had two blocks and played with the energy the Bulls lacked from Noah.
The Bulls also had to stick with the matchups that were working, as the Heat played small for most of the game. The 6-foot-8 Udonis Haslem, who started at center in place of the 6-foot-10 Ronny Turiaf, did not play in the second half due to an illness. It marked the fourth straight game the Bulls played a team that featured a non-traditional lineup.
“It wasn’t traditional in terms of them having two bigs on the floor all the time, so you have to cut some of those minutes down,” Thibodeau said. “That was more of the case. We need Jo. Jo’s a big part of the team. But the way Omer was playing and Taj was playing, I was riding that group longer.”
- Rose told the assembled media Thursday that he planned to play three-on-three scrimmages during practices in advance of Sunday night’s game against the Detroit Pistons.
- Bulls guard Kyle Korver has put his home in Glenco on the market and plans to move elsewhere in the Chicagoland area, according to a neighbor. The Chicago Tribune is reporting that the mansion is listed at $1.499 million.
- Speaking to ESPN 1000’s “Waddle & Silvy” Friday afternoon, Boozer said Thibodeau is the most prepared coach he has been around in his 10-year career – high praise coming from a player who has also spent time under Jerry Sloan and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski.
- Bulls tickets for the first two rounds of the playoffs went on sale Friday at 11 a.m. A total of eight possible home games were available, four in the first round and four in the second round. All playoff dates, times and opponents will be determined after the regular season.