Carlos Boozer wouldn’t take the bait.
After yet another monster performance in the Bulls’ first-round playoff series against the Nets, the much-maligned power forward shrugged off praise the same way he discards defenders or better yet, ignores his critics.
“Not really,” he responded, when asked if anything special spurred his 22-point (on 9-for-15 shooting), 16-rebound outing Thursday night at the United Center. “Just playing.”
“You know how the playoffs are. The more you play the same team, the more familiar they are with your plays, they more familiar you are with their plays and then you end up getting into your second, third and fourth options, and we’re exploring that,” Boozer continued, again brushing off a question about his personal impact on the Bulls’ 79-76 Game 3 win, which gave them a 2-1 series lead. “They’re a good team. They’re not going to give us what we want. We’re going to take some things that we can take advantage of, but they’re getting familiar with us.”
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Boozer would quip, “I can’t tell you everything because then they’re going to hear about it,” but that isn’t why he doesn’t take credit for his individual success.
Aside from being an underrated team-first player, Boozer doesn’t pat himself on the back because if he did, he’d only be further assailed by his legion of critics.
“I don’t think it’s easy for anybody,” rationalized teammate Joakim Noah, unlike Boozer, a much-beloved figure in Chicago, if not elsewhere. “I think that everybody’s human and at the end of the day, he’s a tough guy and he’s dealt with it great, but it’s still not easy. I think he’s using all that as motivation now.”
Boozer has been rock-solid for the injury-riddled Bulls all season and probably deserved to be their third All-Star, but not only in the Windy City, but across the league, the veteran doesn’t get the respect he’s earned over a distinguished career.
His limitations are well-documented, but night in and night out, Boozer delivers as a scorer, rebounder and passer, all of which were on full display against Brooklyn.
“Carlos is huge, man. He was hitting some big shots for us. He’s been playing great, especially tonight. Every time they made a run, he was just giving them an answer. Carlos is a great player, man. Tonight, I thought he really stopped every run they had,” Luol Deng, another player who’s experienced both sides of the spectrum when it comes to fan appreciation, told CSNChicago.com. “I know they try to front him a lot and they’re coming in on the weak side, but he’s finding ways.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau added: “[Boozer’s scoring is] always critical. Got to get established inside-out. I thought his rebounding was terrific and we’ve got to search him out more.”
As for the man himself, Boozer still talked in generalities—when this reporter tried to pre-empt his usual “playing off my teammates” answer, he subsequently repeated it and even winked, for good measure—but opened up the window to his soul a crack when pressed on how he deals with the personal attacks about his game, as well as the pride he should rightfully have for a stellar campaign thus far.
“We’ve faced adversity all season, as you guys are very aware of, with D-Rose being out, different guys being out with different injuries. Obviously we’ve been able to stay afloat, get to the fifth seed, which is an accomplishment in itself. But no need to look back.; we’ve got to keep looking forward. So I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish, but hopefully we have a lot more to do,” he explained. “I feel good. My teammates are great. I’ve got great teammates, I’ve got a great coaching staff, family is great. So I just feed off of that.”