Even when the Bulls play poorly, as they did during a majority of Game 1 on Saturday afternoon, they can still hand the ball to Derrick Rose and have him take over the game. But that won’t be the case if and when they advance, and coach Tom Thibodeau knows it. Simply put, if Carlos Boozer plays the way he did on Saturday, the Bulls aren’t going to get to where they want to go.
The prized free-agent acquisition scored just 12 points, committed four turnovers and played poor defense in his Bulls playoff debut. When asked about Boozer’s performance after Sunday’s practice, Thibodeau responded this way.
“I thought he was very aggressive early,” Thibodeau said. “And then I thought his foul trouble made him tentative. And he can’t play that way. Even if he gets fouls, he’s got to stay aggressive. When he’s aggressive, he’s very good.”
But when he isn’t, Boozer is bad. Thibodeau can point to his power forward’s foul trouble all he wants, but Boozer’s defense has left a lot to be desired all season. Obviously, as a team, the Bulls didn’t play the type of defense in Game 1 that Thibodeau has preached about all season, but Boozer’s effort stuck out like a sore thumb.
“Me and [Thibodeau], we watched tape this morning,” Boozer said, using the same foul-trouble excuse. “Anytime you get in foul trouble, I think it changes how you play a little bit. I think you guys have seen that throughout the course of basketball; no different for me [on Saturday].”
When pressed if Boozer could use some help on Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough, who repeatedly lit him up, Thibodeau tried to take some pressure off his big man.
“The big thing is, Carlos didn’t guard him the entire game,” Thibodeau said. “So we didn’t do a good job. Our team didn’t do a good job. And then you have to look at how he got those points. Was it a result of breakdowns, people not doing their job? I would say it was a compilation of things, and we got to do a much better job on him.”
That was a sentiment echoed by Kyle Korver, as well. He believes there was a simple message that came out of such an unusually sloppy game for Boozer and the rest of his teammates.
“We can fix a lot of things,” Korver said. “We really didn’t play that well. I think they played really well. We’ve got to give them credit for that, but we have a lot of things we need to clean up. Pick-and-roll coverages, getting out to shooters, transition defense; we didn’t always take the greatest shots early in the game. So … a lot of things.”
But Korver and Thibodeau both know the truth when it comes to Boozer. If he doesn’t get back on track, the Bulls won’t go nearly as far as they would have liked during this postseason stretch. So what will it take for Boozer to get back in rhythm?
“A big and-one dunk, [and he’ll] scream, ‘And-one, dawg!’” Korver said. “I think we can help him out in getting him the ball in spots where he’s more comfortable. Not just get jump shots early, but really get him [in] pick-and-roll, that one-dribble bounce pass, get him in the middle of the lane doing his thing. He’s a real emotional guy, but just try to get him a couple of good looks early would help him out.”
If that doesn’t work, there’s a solid chance Boozer may have fans screaming in frustration on Monday night … the same way he did on Saturday.