MIAMI -- "I dont know if that small ball is going to workagainst us," Joakim Noah exclaimed, over the din of the jubilant visitinglocker room at American Airlines Arena. "Not with a guy like Carlos Boozer inthe game."
Following Boozers 27-point, 12-rebound outing in theBulls' 96-89 road win Friday night over the defending-champion Heat, Noah'sstatement rang true. The Bulls dominated the Heat on the glass to the tune ofa 48-28 margin as well as outscoring them in the paint, 46-34, and notching 20second-chance points to Miamis seven.
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Boozer was a huge part of that, but his effort set the tone. From the opening tip, the much-malignedpower forward battled -- on both ends of the court, evidenced by his late strip ofHeat big man Chris Bosh -- and even made important hustle plays to ensure that theBulls earned their biggest victory of the season. For the offseason Miamiresident, it might have been his most memorable performance -- certainly in thatparticular arena, at least in a Bulls uniform -- in a long while and thatscoming off a season-high scoring effort in Wednesdays win at Orlando
"I love it playing in front of my family. I had 70 peopleout there -- family, friends. Its good to get a win out there in front of all mypeople. It was fun," Boozer said before explaining why he was soproductive Friday. "Thibs coming to me, playing off my teammates, trying to beaggressive, trying to make the most of my shots, trying to be more efficient. Ihavent been really as efficient this year; trying to be more efficient in theNew Year.
It wasnt just me, it was everybody who was diving forloose balls, scrapping and thats how were going to have to play," he said. "Were stillshort-handed. Until weve got everybody back, were playing short-handed. Wevegot to scrap a lot of games to have a chance to win and we had some scrapperstoday. My New Years resolution of being more efficient andgetting more wins is working out so far."
His coaches and teammates certainly took note of thenew-and-improved Boozer, who looked like a man possessed -- or rather, a manamongst boys against the smallish Heat -- as he pounded the glass, ran the courtwith abandon and finished with force. If his past two outings are any indicationof what 2013 will bring, the entire Bulls frontcourt might have a case forAll-Star candidacy.
"'Los was big all night. He played huge for us. He canscore so well around the basket. But overall, I think that it was a great winfor us," Noah said. "He played very well defensively, as well, was very active with hishands and that was huge for us. That play when he dove on thefloor, caught it and he passed it to Taj, and he got fouled, I thought thatprobably was the play of the game. It was just hustle. We outhustled them."
WATCH: Noah says this is biggest win of the year
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau concurred: He was great.Hes been playing very well at both ends, getting good post position, executingthe pick-and-roll well."
WATCH: Thibodau praises Bulls effort against Heat
In short, Boozer looked like the player thatChicago expected when he arrived in2010. Glimpses have appeared since hes been in the black and red, and oftentimes hes criticized unfairly even when he does play well. But if Boozercontinues to play like this, as far as effort -- if not numbers -- those jeers willturn to cheers and Booz wont be mistaken for boos.