PHILADELPHIA -- Carlos Boozer summed up his Game 6 performance and his Bulls' postseason career in the same sentence late Thursday night.
When asked if he thought he got good looks at the basket, Boozer quickly noted something that the basketball world could clearly see.
"I just missed them," Boozer said. "Some nights are like that. Some night you're on fire, some nights you're not. Tonight I wasn't."
The reality for the Bulls is that when all the chips are down and they need a solid performance from their $75-million dollar power forward, he doesn't come through. That was the case again against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 6. Boozer went just 1-for-11 from the field, scored just three points, and was benched for the entire fourth quarter. The performance caps an up-and-down two-year tenure for Boozer that has had more lows than highs. It also reinforces the fact that the Bulls are not going to be able to win a title – even when Derrick Rose and Luol Deng eventually get healthy -- as long as Boozer and his bloated contract continue to lay an egg in the biggest games.
As hard as it will be for Bulls' management to accept their fate this season given all the injuries the organization endured, what might be most jarring is the realization that the Boozer experiment has not worked.
Bulls' executives were confident Boozer would turn things around this season. He came into camp in great shape, played every game this season and became arguably the team's most valuable player during the regular season. His defense still left a lot to be desired, but at least there were flashes of better rotations at times. Boozer, after all, heard the criticism throughout the summer, and he wanted to show he was worth that mega contract.
Teammates, coaches and executives went out of their way to defend Boozer throughout the year. After dealing with several injuries last season, he finished the year with a painful turf toe injury that, it was argued by his defenders, was the root of his struggles in during the 2011 postseason.
Yet again, when the lights were brightest Boozer was nowhere to be found on Thursday night. Without Rose and Noah, somebody had to step up and help Luol Deng carry the offensive load. Somebody had to help make shots for a gritty team that wasn't about to roll over and call it a season.
For the second consecutive year, Boozer simply couldn't fill that role. To put it in perspective, Boozer sat on the bench for a combined 30 minutes and 31 seconds between Game 5 against Miami last season in the Eastern Conference finals and Game 6 against the Sixers Thursday night.
"I thought I played well, especially with the kind of season it was," Boozer said, when asked to assess his second season in Chicago. "We had the best record again in basketball, won our division again, had the top seed again, that's all that matters, yo."
Actually, it's not.
All that matters is winning a championship. And while it's certain that the Bulls' title chances went down the drain the second Rose hit the floor late in Game 1 with a season-ending knee injury, the Bulls still had enough to get past the Sixers in the first round -- if they had executed better and made a few more shots down the stretch. While Boozer might have done his part in Games 4 and 5, he contributed nothing offensively for his team when it needed him most, leaving a beleaguered Tom Thibodeau to defend his power forward one more time after it was over, predictably leaning on the fact that Boozer pulled down 13 rebounds.
"I thought he played hard," Thibodeau said. "It wasn’t going his way offensively, that happens. and when it’s not going your way, you have to do other things. I thought his rebounding was terrific. I thought Taj and Omer got us going and I thought our defense and rebounding put back iin position. So we rode that group a little longer. Carlos had a terrific year for us. He didn’t play well offensively, I thought he passed the ball, didn’t shoot the ball well."
Any player can have an off night, but it's the continued pattern of Boozer's off nights that have to be most disconcerting to Thibodeau and the rest of the organization.
Boozer was brought in to be the second offensive option on a championship-caliber team. Now he's just an overpriced forward who is only getting older for a team with a championship forecast that is cloudier than ever. The calls will grow louder over the summer for the Bulls to use their amnesty clause on Boozer to free themselves of the almost $50 million dollars he is due over the next three years. But amnestying Boozer doesn't really help the Bulls much considering Rose, Deng and Noah all have huge deals on the books for multiple years to come. The Bulls are still expected to be over the cap once they make a decision on Omer Asik and Rip Hamilton returns next season. To anyone thinking that Boozer has trade value, think again. There isn't a team in the NBA that wants to deal with that contract.
"It's going to be a long summer," Boozer said. "A tough summer, especially to end it like this. But we'll be healthy and we'll be back next year."