Overshadowed by the Bulls’ Game 3 loss to the Heat was Carlos Boozer’s 21-point evening.
The much-maligned power forward struggled in the first two games of the Eastern Conference semifinals, but was very efficient Friday — shooting 10-for-16 from the floor — albeit in a losing effort, after being perhaps the Bulls’ most consistent scoring threat in the first round against the Nets.
“I thought he played well. Offensively, he was very aggressive early. There’s a lot of different ways he can score,” Thibodeau said. “Running the floor, going to the offensive board, ducking in, facing up and I thought he did a combination of all those things. I thought that got him into rhythm.”
Boozer got into a rhythm with his feathery jumper and also finished strong at the rim, something the Bulls will need moving forward against Miami.
Heat big man Chris Bosh, who experienced similar struggles in Games 1 and 2, also had a breakout performance, as the All-Star finished with 20 points and a playoff career-high 19 rebounds.
Unheralded Cole making impact for Miami
With back-to-back games of 18 points, as well as a perfect 8-for-8 shooting from three-point range and pesky defense against Nate Robinson, Heat backup point guard Norris Cole is making his presence felt.
“He played very well for them. He’s a good player, very good player,” Thibodeau said. “He’s improved every year in the league, hard-playing, smart, tough. He’s made a lot of big shots. I’m going to have to come up with a better answer.”
The second-year speedster, a product of mid-major Cleveland State, was a high school teammate of Bulls reserve swingman Daequan Cook, where Cook, a high-school All-American, garnered most of the headlines.
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Perhaps that helps explain how the former all-state high-school quarterback — second academically in his class Dayton, Ohio’s Dunbar High School, Cole was more heavily recruited for football than basketball, for which he almost attended an NAIA school — has managed to quietly thrive alongside his superstar teammates.
“He’s gained the confidence of everybody in our organization, all year. He’s been steadily getting better and he’s earning his minutes,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Our point-guard position is very important to us, more important to us this year probably in any other years.”
Heat’s Battier complimentary of Thibodeau
Heat reserve forward Shane Battier’s career path coincided with Thibodeau’s for a season when the pair were in Houston during the 2006-07 campaign.
During Battier’s first year with the Rockets and Thibodeau’s last before moving on to Boston, the coach made a strong impression on the veteran role player.
”He had the mind of a head coach, so it was a matter of time. He was a really good defensive coach and obviously, we were one of the best defensive teams when we were in Houston and a big reason was Thibs,” Battier told CSNChicago.com. “He’s been in a tough position obviously, with injuries, especially to Derrick Rose, multiple injuries this year and he’s done a great job of keeping them afloat.
“Thibs is always prepared and I played one year for him in Houston. We were always prepared, especially defensively. No grey areas,” he continued. “Under Jeff Van Gundy, he didn’t get a chance to speak a whole lot. Jeff sort of ran the show, so obviously now, Thibs is a lot more vocal here on the sideline with his own team. But I have a feeling that his assistants don’t say much either.”
Haslem praises fellow Gator Noah
Veteran power forward Udonis Haslem of the Heat is a proud University of Florida product and has maintained close ties to the program since embarking on his professional career, which began with a season in France before joining the Heat.
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Haslem has witnessed Joakim Noah’s development over the years and while the two teams are rivals, he’s impressed with the Bulls’ All-Star center.
“He’s turned into a heck of a player, man. A leader, brings the energy every night,” Haslem told CSNChicago.com. “He’s a vocal leader and sometimes you get guys that lead by example and sometimes, you get guys that lead by talking and leading guys verbally. He does it both ways.”
Besides his one-year stint overseas — during which he reshaped his body after being a wide-bodied undersized center in college — Haslem has spent his entire life in Florida.
A native of Jacksonville, Fla., he finished high school in Miami before attending college in Gainesville and spending his entire NBA career with the Heat.
Haslem was a member of Gators head coach Billy Donovan’s first Final Four team.
Rose reaches one-year anniversary of surgery
While many observers pinpointed April 28, the day he tore his left ACL in the opening game of the 2011 playoffs, as a year since Derrick Rose last played, the eight-to-12 month recovery timetable given by Bulls team physician Dr. Brian Cole related to the date of his surgery.
Rose’s torn knee ligament was repaired last May 12, which was a year ago Sunday.
Despite erroneous reports that he was set to dress for Game 3, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, the former league MVP won’t return to the court in the series, something Thibodeau is aware of.
However, at the outset of the second round, Rose did strongly consider coming back, but ultimately decided against it, another source said.
While Rose’s absence looms over the series in the minds of fans and the media, Thibodeau said that not only did the Bulls anticipate the frenzy, but insists that it hasn’t affected the team.
“That’s the way we approached it from the beginning of the year. I think from the outside, we knew it would be a big story. But from the inside, the way we view it is, we knew from the beginning of the season that there was a good chance that he would miss a big chunk of the season and the possibility of him missing the entire season,” he explained. “He knew that from the beginning and the way we approached it — and it hasn’t changed one bit from the beginning — is the players that are available, concentrate on your daily improvement and the next improvement that we’re playing, get ready for the game. Let Derrick handle his rehab and then, hopefully at some point — whether it’s next week, next year — he’ll rejoin us. But for the guys who are here, we’ve got to get it done with what we have, and we have more than enough to win.”
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Game 4 tickets still available
Seats for Monday night’s Game 4 at the United Center, which starts at 6 p.m., are still available and can be purchased through Bulls.com, NBATickets.com, by phone at 1-800-4-NBA-TIX or at the arena’s box office.