In the clinching Game 6 of the Bulls semifinals matchup with the Atlanta Hawks, Chicago finally witnessed the Carlos Boozer they had been waiting to see since the postseason began.
Boozer scored 23 points on 10-16 shooting and pulled down 10 rebounds which were closer to the playoff averages of 19 and 12 the power forward averaged in postseason play before being signed by the Bulls than the 10 points and just under 10 rebounds he was averaging before his breakout performance.
“I think it’s great,” said Joakim Noah. “He played a very confident game and we need that from Carlos. We know that when Carlos is playing at a high level it just takes our team to a whole new level.”
Boozer struggled in the first round to even have much of an impact, battling foul trouble and suffering a toe injury in the final game of the series. Those struggles followed him into the series with Atlanta as he never seemed sure of what he wanted to do when he got the ball in one of his sweet spots. He would hold onto the ball before settling often for a contested jumper which drew jeering from the United Center crowd.
[Just] Overthinking,” said Derrick Rose about Boozer’s play. “When you’re not playing as well as you’re supposed to be playing, that’s the only thing that you do is you overthink. In this game you just have to play. You do whatever the game tells you to do and at the time, Booze was just trying to force things. He played great [on Thursday], shooting the ball, not hesitating, making moves when he needs to and just speeding up his time.”
You could begin to see that timing speed up in Game 4 in Atlanta when Boozer scored 18 points on 7-10 shooting. He followed that performance up with his third double-double of the playoffs in Game 5 with 11 points and 12 rebounds and in Game 6, he seemed to finally remember that names like Jason Collins and Zaza Pachulia should not be able to check him.
“He’s feeling a lot better,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “You could see it the last three games. His moves are a lot sharper, he’s jumping, he had great rhythm, rebounded the ball — his rebounding’s actually been good the entire time — but offensively, you could see he’s got his bounce back.”
Against the Miami Heat, who are expected to throw everything but the kitchen sink on Rose, Boozer’s return to form can definitely make things a lot easier for Chicago in terms of ball movement and keeping lanes open for Rose as well as open up opportunities for others.
“He just has to hit his groove,” agreed Rose. “That’s about it. His confidence is high, it’s back where it needs to be, he’s knocking down shots, everything that he was doing was quicker, more efficient, shooting the ball, not hesitating and that’s the Booze that we know.”
With all the scrutiny he has gone through this season, Boozer has a chance to help Chicago fans as well as critics forget about the struggles and return the focus to an offense that runs its best when it plays inside-out.
“We need him,” said Rose. “We definitely need him.”