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Boozer and Korver lead Bulls over Jazz
by Sam Smith
Posted on Mar 11
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What if the Bulls played to Carlos Boozer like they did during his time in Utah? What if he got as many as 17 shots, like he has just six times this season, and like he did in Saturday’s Bulls 111-97 win over the Utah Jazz as Boozer led the way with 27 points?
Would that be the answer to some of Chicago’s scoring questions?
It’s something that I thought about watching the shorthanded (actually, their hands were long, but I digress) Bulls without Luol Deng, Richard Hamilton, C.J. Watson and Joakim Noah handle a playoff contending team. Sure, the 34-9 Bulls had Derrick Rose, who had 24 points and 13 assists and looked like he could score anytime he wanted to, but was letting the other kids play.
One of those other kids, Kyle Korver, was thrilled to after that zero for six three-point shooting fourth quarter in Thursday’s loss to Orlando. Former Jazzer Korver scored a season-high 26 points with six of 11 three pointers, including four of five after halftime as the Bulls pulled away and led by double digits the last 17 minutes.
“I got some good looks,” said Korver, who cleverly ran off his screens to open spaces. “Derrick found me a couple of times. After a bad shooting game, you don’t want to go out jacking up shots to prove you can make them. You’ve got to make a couple. Once you do that, find your rhythm and that builds confidence and then let it go.
“I did get some good looks early in the game,” said Korver, who had 10 first quarter points after what he said was not much sleep since Thursday. “Guys kept looking for me But, hey! I missed five. It’s not like I shot that great.”
He laughed, but it was a terrific shooting exhibition, perhaps even more impressive the way he often was the only three point shooter on the court for the Bulls and kept getting open shots. It’s possible the Jazz had been scouting the soccer Red Bulls instead. Rose was terrific in finding Korver, often slowing up in transition or accelerating depending on the defense. While Korver looked more like Ray Allen playing off the screens and pindowns wherever the defense shaded and going to open space and the Bulls adjusting. It was the tai chi/Wee Willie Keeler Kyle of moving away from the pressure for relief.
“He’s one of the best shooters in the league at reading and knowing who he is and how he has to come off screens and when he gets open getting his feet set,” said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin. “When he was here (Utah) he hit many of the same shots for us. He showed who he is. That’s why we loved him so much when he had him. He’ll come down and he’ll make timely shots on you. If he gets open and sets his feet he’s going to make shots. If you go after him, he will make the pass (seven rebounds and six assists) to the open man and make you honest. He is just a smart player.”
Smart team as well as the Bulls under Tom Thibodeau never played, even in practice or during rotations in games, the lineup they started Saturday with Noah coming down with the flu and Deng resting his injured left wrist. Hamilton remained out with his shoulder injury and Watson with his ankle, though at least Noah and Watson are expected back for the Knicks Monday.
So it was the three former Jazz, Korver, Boozer and Ronnie Brewer along with Omer Asik and Rose. And the final result was one of the best offensive showings of the season with three starters with at least 24 points.
“We try to find a new way to answer this question every day,” Korver said with a laugh of playing with injuries as the Bulls streak of not losing two straight is now longest in the league and in franchise history at 74 games. “We keep plugging guys in. We’ve had a lot of guys step up all year. One of the strengths of our team is the ability to adapt. It’s not an easy thing to do. For some reason this team because the chemistry is so good and guys like eachother so much. That has a lot to do with it. It’s a very supportive team. Whoever’s on the floor, guys are cheering for one another. That doesn’t always happen in the NBA.”
Korver paused and perhaps thought of teams like—and I’m just guessing here—the Knicks?
“It doesn’t always happen,” he reiterated. “I don’t think we played an amazing game. I thought we did what we had to do to win.”
Thibodeau basically agreed as twice in his post game comments he complained about the team’s defense, much as he did after the loss to the Magic. I’d say it’s not easy to sustain your defensive system when your reserves are Jimmy Butler, first off the bench and who played well, Taj Gibson, John Lucas and Brian Scalabrine.
Hey, but what do I know.
“I thought overall, we had a lot of guys step up and play well,” Thibodeau said in opening his post game comments. “Also, I think we can do better.”
It’s probably why he’s a slightly better coaching candidate than I am as I was pretty satisfied as the Bulls shot 55.8 percent, outrebounded the Jazz 42-31, and held them without a three point make. Yes, Utah did shoot 47.1 percent, and the Bulls did commit 14 turnovers, six by Rose and five by Boozer.
It’s been no secret he’s been the object of much fan frustration, taking the spot formerly reserved for Deng. I’m not suggesting Boozer is on the way back to the All-Star team, though he is averaging 22 points and seven rebounds the last three games.
“He had a good rhythm going,” said Thibodeau. “He is such a good shooter from 17 feet that you have to close on him and he has the ability to put it on the floor. He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now. He’s doing a really good job for us now. I thought he did a great job playing extra minutes.”
Boozer played 41:25, just the second time he’s played at least 40 minutes this season. He is averaging fewer than 30 minutes for the first time since his rookie season. And also with both Noah and Deng out, the two primary pick and roll players with Rose, Boozer had more opportunities with Rose and thus his second biggest scoring game of the season.
Perhaps it was a coincidence, but he also dove on the floor for a loose ball and made some strong moves in traffic and ran the court. Yes, the Jazz is small with Al Jefferson at center and Paul Millsap, who also had 26, at power forward. But they are considered top forwards, especially Jefferson. Though certainly not with their defense.
It is the most common complaint regarding Boozer. Yet as you look around the league it’s not easy to find high level defense at power forward.
And then when you look more closely, you begin to wonder whether Boozer is a top 10 power forward after all that. Carlos Boozer top 10? Maybe it’s being lightheaded with daylight savings time here.
We know the names of the top guys at the position, like Chris Bosh, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Dirk Nowitzki, who, by the way, are all poor defenders. But they all also play more than Boozer does. And in overall scoring and rebounding, Boozer ranks 10th among the power forwards in scoring and 11th in rebounding.
And on this Bulls team he’s actually asked to do less on offense as Noah is the primary screen guy in the pick and roll with Boozer playing more of the weak side. Look, it’s hardly an unsuccessful formula as the Bulls have had the best record in the league now for almost two seasons. So no one is suggesting Thibodeau change. But it does raise the question of what Boozer could be as, after all, last season was difficult with him missing all of training camp and the first month of the season while going to a new team in a new city just after going through a family divorce.
Plus, Boozer has not been a distraction despite clearly less involvement in the offense. In fact, he again praised Thibodeau Saturday for the way he is used.
“Thibs has done a great job with my minutes,” said Boozer, the only Bulls starter not to miss a game this season. “I’m fresh for the stretch run and the playoffs. He came to me early in the game and asked how I was feeling. I said, ‘Great, keep riding.’”
Boozer was asked about having the big scoring game, but he preferred to defer.
“Everybody is stepping up and playing well,” he said. “I’m about team. I’m not going to talk about myself.”
Forget All-Star. How about sainthood?
Nah, I’m not even sure of his religion. But Boozer is shooting a team best 53.3 percent. He is second on the team in scoring even though he’s fourth in minutes. He’s second in rebounding, tied for second in steals and in the top 15 at his position in the league in assists.
And let’s hold off on that extension.
Of course, the playoffs will be the measure again for Boozer, though for the team as well. But he seems to have a better start on it than last season.
Perhaps the Bulls as well as I thought Saturday’s was a useful game because of the playing time that went to players who could be vital in the playoffs. Asik’s absence, according to Thibodeau, became a big issue against Miami. He isn’t going to excite anyone offensively. But Saturday he played a solid 33 minutes at center, holding off Jefferson and getting six rebounds, three assists and two steals. Likewise, Butler was energetic with eight points and, as usual, getting to the free throw line with his aggression. He played a career most 27:45 and also had five rebounds, three offensive. He has to get some more arc on his shot, but you can see him being a bother to Dwyane Wade in the playoffs and more playing time like this handled well could persuade Thibodeau to continue giving him more playing time.
Butler got in Saturday late in the first quarter in what was an uneven start with the Bulls empty on the first five possessions as players made introductions. Of course not actually, but as Korver said even in Utah he and Brewer never played together.
But Korver got going and the Bulls kept it tied at 22 after one quarter.
“He’s a pro,” said Thibodeau. “He will never stop shooting nor do we ever want him to stop shooting. That’s his strength. When he has an open look at the three, we want him to take it all day, every day. In a very good way, he has a short memory. He always thinks the next one is going in. That’s good. He just gets ready for the next game.”
The Jazz is a team in transition, and they did probably their best running off Bulls turnovers with 19 fast break points. But at 19-21 they were playing the last of a five game road trip and falling out of the playoff race in the West. They seem just running in place with Jefferson and Millsap as young interior players Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors wait to play. It’s only a matter of time before one of their veteran inside guys is traded. They’re also getting ready to part ways with reserve C.J. Miles, a young big shooting guard I could see the Bulls looking at in the future. Though it probably would cost too much to get him now even as he’s not having a great season.
The Bulls began to take control in the second quarter with some aggressive play midway through when the Bulls took a 39-29 lead after a sequence when Butler got two offensive rebounds and Gibson another before Asik finished the possession with a slam dunk. Rose, who began the game looking to get others involved, then began to look to score more. Actually, it looked like he could score on Earl Watson every time he wanted, though he seemed annoyed early by the lack of foul calls, eventually having to throw himself at the defense to rouse the officiating crew.
The Bulls led 48-41 at halftime and the Bulls then broke it open shooting 12 of 15 in the third quarter as Rose began by attacking the basket with a variety of spinning moves and floaters. The quarter ended symbolically with Jamaal Tinsley trying to postup the smaller Lucas on an isolation. So Lucas steals the ball and goes the other way for a lob pass slam dunk for Gibson as the Bulls led 79-63 after three.
“They’re are just a better basketball team than we are,” said Millsap. “Defensively they get at it. They stick to what they do. Offensively, they move, they set screens for each other, and help each other out. Things we need to get to doing, things we want to.”
And you are waiting for what?
It was daylight savings just after the game, and you’d thought that meant to the Jazz to give Korver plenty of daylight as he kept getting open. Hello! He was the only one who could make a three. The other Bulls were one of seven combined on threes Saturday. Korver then made three more three pointers in the fourth quarter, Boozer had a run out, fast break dunk beating everyone on the Jazz downcourt and Lucas closed it out with another lob pass for a dunk, this time to Brewer.
“The unselfishness was terrific,” Thibodeau said. “When you are over 30 assists and shoot a high percentage (31 assists and 55.8 percent shooting) you are pleased. We shared the ball, hit the open man. That part was good. There were stretches we were careless with the ball. Defensively, I didn’t like us at all.”
Just one more game until Miami. In case anyone forgets.