Boozer gets some payback in Bulls win in Utah


Feb 9

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There are some rules in life and basketball that are important to live by. Of course, don’t sweat the petty things and don’t pet the sweaty things. Vegetarians should not be eating animal crackers. If you are looking for the self help section in the book store don’t ask for directions, and don’t make Carlos Boozer mad.

It was the officials Friday in Salt Lake City, if not also the religiously booing Jazz fans who reigned verbal abuse throughout the game on their former All-Star forward.

But Boozer had the last laugh—actually also 11 of his team’s last 16 points—and a team-high 19 overall as the Bulls recovered from blowing a 13-point second quarter lead on 11 straight Boozer fourth quarter points for a 93-89 win over the Utah Jazz.

Carlos Boozer“It was a good win for us,” said Boozer as the Bulls return to the United Center Monday against the Spurs 3-3 on this road trip and 30-20 overall with two games left before the All-Star break. “Last night (32-point loss in Denver), we had a decent first half. But we got blown out in the third quarter. We all felt terrible. We came in today focused.”

Enough to get a victory, anyway, as the Bulls clearly seem to be dragging to the All-Star break. Joakim Noah, who gritted his way through 34 minutes with 12 points, 11 rebounds, two huge free throws with 21.6 seconds left with an 88-87 lead and still ailing plantar fasciitis, said he intends to play through his discomfort.

Luol Deng had 15 points and 10 rebounds and two more near clinching free throws after Noah’s with 16 seconds left. But Deng’s shot remained crooked since his return after missing five games with a hamstring injury. Deng is shooting 39 for 110 since returning, 35.4 percent and six of 26 on threes.

Kirk Hinrich remained out with his elbow infection, but Marco Belinelli returned from his sprained ankle and had nine points and six assists, alternating late running the offense with Nate Robinson, who had 18 points, nine assists and was four of seven in three pointers in going more than 46 minutes.

“I thought we made plays down the stretch,” acknowledged Thibodeau about Boozer’s scoring with playmaking by Belinelli.

“Obviously, we have a lot to clean up on our defense. But it’s good to get a win against a tough team playing well (the Jazz were 19-5 at home and had not lost at home to an Eastern Conference team). I thought they had their way with us early inside the paint. Our ball pressure has to be better. I was concerned with the rebounding going in. We had some late rebounds that were critical for us. Marco and Carlos made a lot of big plays down the stretch. Nate was solid throughout. Jo picked up steam as the game went along. Rip (Hamilton with three of four first quarter shooting) got off to a good start. Taj (Gibson with 14 points, eight rebounds and two blocks) was terrific.

“I’m (just) glad we got the win,” said Thibodeau. “That’s what we needed. We took a punch last night and we fought back tonight. That’s what you have to do.”

Few teams in the NBA are better at doing that than the Bulls.

But Al Jefferson had 32 points and 13 rebounds and he has trouble jumping over thick typing paper. Paul Millsap added 21 points, and the Jazz shot 47.4 percent even starting Jamaal Tinsley and Marvin Williams, who were one of eight combined in one of their better marksmanship efforts.

No, these last few weeks have been nothing like the defense the Bulls are accustomed to playing. It’s easy enough to explain, perhaps, with Noah, Boozer, Hinrich and Belinelli out of the lineup at times lately and the approach of the so called midseason All-Star break when teams tend to stop, some too soon, to grab a breath. Taking out the Atlanta game last Saturday, the opponents have shot more than 50 percent combined in the other four Bulls games against the Jazz, Nets, Pacers and Nuggets.

But it’s more than just numbers even as the Bulls from building up an early season reserve of effective defense have fallen only to third in points allowed, field goal defense and three point defense. But it’s been a sliding scale.

Allowing Jefferson to get going for his big game was merely one symptom of a potentially debilitating disease of defensive inertia. At least by the Bulls’ standards.

It wasn’t until late in the game after Jefferson had torched the Bulls for eight straight points to open the fourth quarter and give the Jazz a 77-73 lead the Bulls finally began committing double team help to Jefferson. Noah fought Jefferson hard, fronting him when he could to deny him the ball, and you aren’t going to throw over the top to Jefferson given his baby bunny hops. But Jefferson was outworking Noah and was too strong for Gibson. Though, as Thibodeau always explains, defense is a team pursuit.

But much of the mortar of the Bulls defensive foundation was cracking. They have been a relentless help team, though it wasn’t there much of this game. The Bulls are supposed to keep the ball out of the middle, the lane, and did it somewhat better. Though that was mostly because the Jazz basically lack a point guard and even try shooting guard Alec Burks there some. Tinsley can penetrate, but he’s not a threat to score, which limits his effectiveness. With Robinson playing for Hinrich–and Robinson was very good again offensively, especially when the Bulls built up that 13-point first half lead–the Bulls have difficulty keeping the ball either out of the middle or directing the ballhandler to the sideline where they try to contain the pick and roll. All teams try to push the ballhandler to his weak hand, which is usually his left. But Robinson gets buried in screens too much, allowing penetration. That’s what continually happened against the Nuggets Thursday leading to all those lob dunks as the big men stepped out to help. You have to do your job, as we know. Though there are many jobs.

“We went up early,” noted Gibson. “But they are always tough here. Al Jefferson was great for them. We were able to take a hit and got the win.”

As unlikely as it began to seem late in the game after the Bulls appeared in control most of the night.

It would end up a very sweet evening for Boozer, who played six, often injury plagued seasons in Utah and is booed every time he touches the ball when he returns. So it was very nice for him, though he wouldn’t say, that the Bulls are undefeated in Salt Lake City since Boozer joined the team. Boozer’s old coach and advocate, Jerry Sloan, attended the game, which has been somewhat irregular for him since he quit suddenly two years ago.

Salt Lake City tends to be a very contradictory place for the NBA. If also for jazz. It’s one of the most picturesque cities in the U.S., in a valley surrounded by the spectacular Wasatch Mountains. It’s a family oriented place anchored by the Mormon Church, and inside the arena you find some of the vilest and ugliest signs and chants you’ll come across in any NBA arena. Yes, the fans are passionate.

And they really don’t like Boozer, who as he returned to health in 2009 began a departure dance that infuriated the local populace.

Still, Boozer never says much about it. But as he carried the Bulls over the finish line, even former teammates were loath to give him credit.

“I’m not sure he’s the guy that beat us,” said Millsap. “They’ve got a whole team and they did a good job. Down the stretch he hit a couple shots, got fouled, but that’s not what lost us the game.”

Of course, a lot of things contribute to success as well as defeat. But in the last 6:33 of the game, the Jazz scored eight points and Boozer scored 11.

C’mon, a little credit.

It likely was enough for Boozer and the Bulls to head back home 3-3 on this unusual 10-day road trip with stops in the East and Midwest that enabled the Bulls to go home three times without playing any home games.

What’s an NBA story of any game without mention and concern about the Lakers. But if the Lakers are to make the playoffs, which, of course, we all worry about, you’d guess the Jazz is the team that will fall out of the playoff race. Yes, they’ve had Mo Williams out. But they’ve got five regulars in Mo Williams, Jefferson, Millsap, Randy Foye and Earl Watson, also hurt, as free agents. They’ve got promising young big men in Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter who don’t play much as a result. Tyrone Corbin seems to be struggling as coach.

Whereas you could wonder why the Bulls took so long to get the ball out of Jefferson’s hands as he didn’t score the last eight minutes of the game, you had to wonder about a lot of the Jazz’ late game strategy with Millsap forcing up a three trailing by three with about 20 seconds left and out of a timeout, one time after the next sending a blitz at Belinelli in the pick and roll with Boozer that was leaving Boozer wifde open lanes to the basket to win the game, and answering the double teams of Jefferson with erratic shooters on the floor late like Marvin Williams and Tinsley.

“With two guys on me and guys fronting and all this stuff, we’ve just got to take advantage of that,” said Jefferson, who is rumored in numerous trade talks. “I think we did for the most part. We had a chance to win. Things just didn’t go our way in the end.”

Of course, that’s the Jazz’ problem as unlike in Sloan’s era they’re one of the league’s poorer defensive teams allowing almost 46 percent shooting overall and tied for 26th in three-point defense, suggesting not a lot of defensive movement and help.

Utah fell to 28-23, seventh in the West and a half game ahead of streaking Houston. Meanwhile, the Bulls with Robinson starting it and Belinelli finishing got back to moving the ball better, scoring 25 assists on 36 baskets as they opened up sharp, at least offensively, with a 31-27 lead after one quarter.

Hamilton was hitting his mid range shot off his so called floppy play running the baseline and coming up over screens. Though Noah struggled to stay down on Jefferson’s pump fake as Jefferson and Millsap each had 11 points in the first quarter. The Bulls offset that beautifully with 62 percent shooting and well distributed offense.

Robinson, whose energy is ideal for playing shorthanded, got it going in the second quarter with three of four threes as the Bulls so poor in transition against Denver were running the floor and making the Jazz look tired, everyone running on fast breaks and defensively against turnovers. The Bulls bolted out ahead 58-45, though the Jazz closed the half with five straight.

It quickly became a game with a 9-2 Jazz start to the third quarter as the Bulls missed 10 of their first 11 shots to start the second half. It was tied at 69 going into the fourth quarter in a game the Jazz often played big with Millsap at small forward, leaving Jimmy Butler mostly on the bench.

The Jazz opened with that Jefferson fourth quarter surge that finally got the Bulls to send help. And it seemed like it would be enough until with just over four minutes left and the Jazz ahead 81-79, Boozer drove along the baseline against Millsap and appeared to be slammed on the arm as his shot flew well over the rim. Boozer, who yells a lot but doesn’t often get involved with officials, gestured and drew a technical from Ken Mauer.

Foye missed the technical foul, and then working seamlessly in two-man games with Belinelli, who is a clever distributor for a shooting guard much like Hamilton, Boozer hit a pop out 14 footer and drove strong left handed over Jefferson at the rim to tie it at 83 with 2:29 left. Boozer then beat Millsap, who fouled him and Boozer made one of two, and then went to the line on the next two Bulls possessions making all four for an 88-85 lead with 27 seconds left.

The Jazz responded with a driving score from Foye, and curiously the Bulls had Noah in the game in the obvious foul situation along with four shooters. Noah got the inbounds pass with 21.6 seconds left and swished both free throws as Noah has become a reliable, 76 percent free throw shooter this season.

And then Deng finished it off at the line, showing you don’t spit into the wind, don’t pull the mask off the Lone Ranger and don’t mess around with Booz in Utah.

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