No player on the Chicago Bulls has drawn the ire and criticism of Bulls fans more than Carlos Boozer. His penchant for disappearing in big games and big moments, along with his failings on defense, have earned him such criticism. But over the last few games, Boozer has shown that he can still be what the Bulls want him to be: a true second option that can help them win a title.
Over the last four games, Boozer has averaged 23 points on .534 shooting, while adding 12.3 rebounds. He has had a double-double in each of those games, his second-longest streak as a Bull (per basketball-reference), and his first four-game streak since February 2011.
In his last two games he has broken 25 points and 10 rebounds in consecutive games for the first time since December 26, 2010, and only for the second time as a Chicago Bull.
The numbers show that Boozer is finally starting to heat up. He's playing as well as he ever has in a Chicago uniform. It's not just the numbers, though. He's playing in a way that might even silence the pervasive "amnesty" talk.
Boozer finally showed something new in the Bulls' last two games: the ability to step up when needed.
When Joakim Noah was sick with the flu and the Bulls were playing in Orlando, it was critical for Carlos Boozer to step up and carry the team. He did. Boozer scored 31 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, leading the Bulls to victory.
Against the Miami Heat, he was huge throughout the game, and on both sides of the ball.
In fact, the Heat's very first shot of the game, an attempt by Udonis Haslem, was blocked by Carlos Boozer.
He followed that up by hitting his first five shots of the game. He had 15 points and eight boards in the first half.
Unlike other games, such as the game against the Phoenix Suns when Boozer started well and ended weak, this time he was just as strong at the end of the game as at the start of it.
His hustle was consistent throughout the game, and was epitomized by this play, where his scrambling—literally by the seat of his pants (or shorts)—led to an offensive rebound and enabled Taj Gibson to draw the foul and go to the line.
When the Heat had a chance to cut the Bulls lead to three after Kirk Hinrich's clear path foul led to two free throws by LeBron James and the Heat ball out of bounds, it was Boozer who came up with this big steal:
Then, on the other end of the court, it was Boozer who made this shot at the rim to essentially seal the game, putting the Bulls up seven with 46 seconds left to go:
Carlos Boozer was the single biggest reason the Bulls were up seven instead of only one at that point.
No wonder after the game Noah was bragging up Carlos Boozer (via CBSSports): "I don't know if that small ball is going to work against us...Not with guys like Carlos Boozer in the game."
Boozer has been disappointing through his Bulls career, that's a given. Sure, he's played well against weaker teams, but when the going has gotten tough, Boozer hasn't "gotten going." He's just gotten gone.
During his two playoff stints with the Bulls, while his rebounding was solid, he only scored 12.9 points per game on .429 shooting. Recent play suggests he might be ready to return to the 20-10 machine the Bulls hoped to ink in the summer of 2010.
Can Boozer play himself out of being amnestied?
If Boozer can maintain his recent level of play through the rest of the season, especially after Derrick Rose comes back, the Bulls are going to be a contending team in the postseason. Neither the New York Knicks nor the Miami Heat have the interior presence to compete with the Bulls if Noah and Boozer are at their best.
The Bulls are 50-9 all-time in games in which Boozer, Noah, Rose and Luol Deng have all started. There's actually room for that to be improved upon.
With Noah having improved his game and Boozer finally finding his, once Rose returns the foursome could climb even higher than they have before, perhaps even to the NBA championship.