Posted Jan 3 2012 11:30AM
CHICAGO -- The circumstances were just so. Zach Randolph had banged his right knee and was on the side, soon to be shut down for the night. The Memphis Grizzlies, already missing their usual starting point guard, Mike Conley (left ankle sprain), were discombobulated on offense and their woes at that end were bleeding into the other end. Hemorrhaging would be more like it, given the lead of 46 points that Chicago opened up on its way to a 104-64 New Year's victory Sunday.
Adding to that, padding that, Carlos Boozer put together a resume package of video moments, all in a span of four minutes in the second quarter. Running the floor, working the pick and roll with Derrick Rose, stepping back to hoist rainbows over Grizzlies big man Marc Gasol, Boozer scored 11 of the Bulls' 13 points to push an 11-point lead to 21.
The veteran power forward grabbed three rebounds and blocked a shot in that stretch, took three more rebounds before the quarter ended and reminded everyone at the United Center or watching wherever that, yes, that was how it can be.
When circumstances are just so.
Afterward, Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau praised Boozer -- "He ran the floor, played defense, rebounded the ball and scored. He played really, really well" -- and it came easily, sincerely. No need on this night for the what-happens-in-Vegas-stays-in-Vegas filter that often seems to be in place, when the head coach's words about Boozer might say one thing but his eyes seem to be saying another. Blown defensive rotations, soft moves with the ball, a little lack of hustle here or there -- that's for others to talk about and for Thibodeau to confront or endure in his own way.
People are getting a glimpse again of what Boozer can do for the Bulls, on the heels of a season built mostly on glimpses. The free agent Chicago signed in the great 2010 marketplace came as something of a consolation prize -- the Bulls had cleared salary cap space with visions of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in their heads, then grabbed Boozer as the music faded and the chairs filled.
They overpaid in the process (five years, $70 million), which really should be between the Bulls and their accountants but invariably gets stirred into the mix. And the mix throughout Chicago's surprising 62-20 regular season in 2010-11 and postseason run to the Eastern Conference finals was that Boozer was a talent but a tease, physically impressive but sincerely phony. Someone who talked the talk a little better than he walked the walk.
"A frontrunner," one NBA scout said the other day. Which means somebody who helps and produces and does/says the right things in good times but can't necessarily be counted on in tough times.
"Teflon" is another tag that seems to suit Boozer. Because he seems so centered, so unflappable, so generally satisfied with his contributions and commitments that none of the bad ever seems to stick. It might be as momentary as letting an opponent blow by him without moving, a boisterous yell providing his only resistance. It might be greater than that, as in the dents to his reputation last season from injuries and a few too many games gone small.
"I'm not worried abut any personal stuff," Boozer said. "This is about our team. I think everything will take care of itself as long as we keep doing what we're capable of doing."
He said that Sunday night but it might as well have been on a tape loop, because it pretty much is what Boozer says all the time. Love the consistency, hate the opaqueness.
Within all the delight last season, Boozer became a target of Bulls fans for those stretches when he appeared too content and half as driven as, say, Rose, the team's white-hot Most Valuable Player or even center Joakim Noah, a frenzied player at both ends even when his efficiency is lacking.
The injuries didn't help -- a broken hand from tripping over a suspicious-sounding gym bag that wiped out his November, bookended in the playoffs by turf toe. That one -- which only sounds minor, athletic trainers everywhere will tell you -- cut Boozer's playoff production (12.6 points, 9.7 rebounds) by about a third from his four strong postseasons with Utah.
The Bulls needed a reliable No. 2 offensive threat to balance Rose and a strong inside presence that Boozer, lacking height and lift even when otherwise healthy, doesn't really bring. He took heat for it, his hooted nickname (Booooooz!) raining down from the rafters as the real thing.
Rose, Thibodeau and the rest continue to focus on the half-full with Boozer, and why not? The alternative, if their comments start to track what fans and critics feel, is to maybe lose him completely.
So they keep pulling for the guy who averaged 19.9 points and 10.2 rebounds, with 19 of his 30 double-doubles in 29 games last December and January, compared to 15.2 and 8.9 before and after. They see the sleeker version who showed up at camp last month, 20 pounds lighter, and stick to the what-might-be's. Because they need him at his best.
"We have to play inside more," Rose said. "And our game is also at the top of the key, high pick and rolls, but we run away from them sometimes toward the end. The way he has been working out and working on his game, we have confidence in him."
Thibodeau and Gar Forman, the Bulls' general manager, cut Boozer some slack because he was hurt last season (the coach's view) and he had joined a new team (the GM's). Which is fine, as long as last year stays last year.
"He's a quick jumper and finishes with both hands," Thibodeau said. "He always has been real clever. He always has had those floaters, little flip shots. He's a very good 15- to 17-foot jump shooter. He can face you up, pick and pop, pick and roll. We want to take advantage of those strengths."
Fans should remember that in those fourth quarters when Thibodeau has Boozer sitting near him. Not because it's garbage time but because Chicago's defense demands it.
Boozer, meanwhile, doesn't seem ruffled by anything the fans might remember or say. As he recalls it, Chicago fans supported him all season and "showed great love." He is counting on it again.
"I'm not even worried about that," the veteran forward said. "Honestly. I don't know what story you guys are trying to write. But what I'm going to tell you, we're just worried about getting better every day as a group of guys and continuing to march in the direction of our goal. You guys can write that story."
Boozer wrote it, big, for four minutes the other night. He's the guy at the keyboard going forward.
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