NEW YORK—For close observers of the Bulls, their trademark resiliency in Thursday night’s 92-90 victory over the Nets at the Barclays Center shouldn’t be surprising.
Neither should Carlos Boozer’s monster performance.
The chorus of critics maligning the veteran power forward has quieted as of late and for good reason, as Boozer has consistently delivered all season, as he did against Brooklyn with a 29-point, 18-rebound outing to propel the short-handed Bulls—even more than usual, as Taj Gibson, his understudy, made five key players who weren’t in uniform—in a win over a potential first-round playoff opponent.
“Every night is going to be different guys, different matchups, but me and Luol, that’s our responsibility, to score the ball for us, especially without D-Rose this season. Joakim, Taj, Marco, Rip, that’s a lot of offense over their on the bench, so we obviously have a full load, but tonight was just aggressive,” said Boozer, who is always reluctant to point out his own success. “I honestly feel great. Got a good rhythm, just playing off my teammates and being aggressive when I get it, and whatever happens, happens. I’m confident out there and my teammates are confident.”
His teammates were more than willing to praise his effort.
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“Big-time down there, big-time plays. Carlos has been holding it down all season. They gypped him for the All-Star, so he’s just showing the world what he can do,” Nate Robinson said. “He plays hard, he does his thing and he gets us going. We know we've got to go inside-out to him. An easy bucket for him is going to make it easier for everyone else.”
Kirk Hinrich concurred: “He’s been huge for us all year. He’s been able to get it going down there and we've been playing through him all year, and he’s just been doing a great job of just doing his thing down there and getting buckets. It helps a lot. It helps slow the game down. He’s just very effective."
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau added: “I think he and Luol set the tone. They make big shots, make big plays. When the game got tough, those were the guys that were stepping up.”
The smallest man on the court came up with the biggest play of the night, as Robinson’s go-ahead floater with 22.7 seconds remaining gave the Bulls the lead, which they held on to for the win.
Robinson comes up big for Bulls
After starter Kirk Hinrich fouled out, Robinson, who himself was mired in foul trouble and had sat for the majority of the fourth quarter, was reinserted into the contest and following a Nets turnover, wisely didn’t force the issue in transition before getting a mismatch with Brooklyn All-Star center Brook Lopez out of a pick-and-roll and dropping in the teardrop.
“There were a lot of big plays down the stretch,” Thibodeau said. “For Nate to sit there most of the fourth and then have the ability to step up and make that play at the end, it was a big shot. big shot, big play. He was in foul trouble, Kirk was in foul trouble.”
Boozer added: “We had a lot of guys who had it going, but needless to say, Nate was the one who hit the shot.”
The diminutive scorer was unsurprisingly not at a loss for words afterwards.
“It just happened. Coach just said get it and go if we get a turnover or rebound, and then it happened,” he explained. “I just took the best shot that I thought I had. I took it off the pick-and-roll and it was open. I had to shoot it.
“Coach just said try to get the best shot possible. When I had the steal, I was going to take it coast-to-coast, but then I backed it out, tried to see who I had. I had Jimmy, but I didn’t want to force the pass and then I just dribbled it out, came off the pick-and-roll, they went under and I just shot the floater,” he continued. “I was just waiting for Coach to call my number. I’m always going to be ready and shots like that, I live for those, man. That’s just the type of player I am. I’m not afraid to take a big shot if I have to.
Ironically, prior to the contest, Thibodeau lauded Robinson for his ongoing development over the course of the campaign.
“Well, he’s done a good job. I think, along with his experience, each year, he’s gotten better and better. He’s been a catalyst for us. He’s had some big games. We want him to be a complete player, we want him to play on both ends of the floor and he’s trying to do that,” Thibodeau said. “I think he’s growing in that area [defensively]. He’s improved in his on-ball defense. His off-ball defense, because he’s playing a lot with Kirk now, that’s an area that he’s concentrating on right now. But as long as he tries to play the best defense that he can, that’s all we ask him to do.
“You don’t want to change who he is, and there’s going to be some good and bad, and at the end, you hope that the good outweighs the bad. But he’s the type of guy that can come in and knock down three or four shots for you, so that’s what we want him to do to provide a spark, and he’s done that.”
Following the game, Robinson talked to CSNChicago.com about what he’s taken from his stint with the Bulls this season.
“I’ve just learned that tough times never last, man; tough people do. Guys have been going down, we’re tough individuals and on top of that, we’re a tough team. that’s one thing I’ve learned, just never give up. Guys that are subbing in for other guys, playing as hard as they can and we’re just out there having fun, just doing our thing,” he said.
“Here, being kind of a mixture team—you've got Nazr to Marquis; that’s a big gap—but for us, we have a great group of guys that’s in between, that have either been to the Finals, won the Finals, been to the playoffs, deep in the playoffs, so it’s good just to have a group of guys where our objective and our main goal is to win a championship, and we’re after that.”