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Kragthorpe: Boozer’s Bulls win battle of ex-Jazz stars

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Kurt Kragthorpe

By Kurt Kragthorpe

Tribune Columnist

First published May 04 2013 10:10PM
Updated May 10, 2013 05:46PM

Almost exactly six years after delivering 35 points and 14 rebounds in the signature moment of his Jazz tenure, Carlos Boozer produced about half of those numbers Saturday night.

That was good enough to beat Deron Williams and the Brooklyn Nets, 99-93.

Boozer’s 17 points and seven rebounds helped the Chicago Bulls stage an unlikely upset that topped his Game 7 win at Houston in 2007 — a victory that remains the Jazz’s greatest achievement of this century.

This was another career checkpoint for Boozer and Williams, opposing one another in the first Game 7 for either player since they teamed with the Jazz. Joe Johnson’s brutal game had much more to do with Brooklyn’s defeat than any of Williams’ failings in a 24-point effort. Yet D-Will will have to live with the fact that he could not carry the Nets past a badly depleted Chicago team.

Jazz followers who remain bitter toward Williams undoubtedly enjoyed the Nets’ failure to advance, when they had everything going for them. Of course, those same fans begrudgingly have to credit the equally unpopular Boozer, as the Bulls move on to meet Miami in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Justifiably or not, Williams will always be widely blamed for coach Jerry Sloan’s sudden exit two years ago, two weeks before the trade. So there would not be much happiness in Jazzland if Brooklyn produced a playoff breakthrough in a year when the Jazz did not qualify for the postseason.

Think about this: Williams could have won a playoff series with the Nets before the Jazz even won a playoff game without him. Instead, the Jazz’s victory over Denver in six games of a first-round series in 2010 still stands as his last postseason success, prior to the Jazz’s trading him to the Nets in February 2011.

Boozer was in Chicago by then, having signed with the Bulls as a free agent. The Bulls reached the East finals in his first season, but he played poorly as they were overwhelmed by Miami. After losing Derrick Rose last April, the Bulls were knocked off by No. 8 seed Philadelphia in the first round.

Even more excuses were available Saturday, when the Bulls were missing Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich in Game 7 — to say nothing of Rose’s continued absence.

That’s why Chicago’s victory was so impressive. Joakim Noah and Marco Bellinelli were more responsible than Boozer, but the Bulls’ collective performance should alter the way Boozer is viewed in Chicago. After all they’ve gone through, they regrouped and won Game 7 on the road.

Boozer certainly helped. He scored Chicago’s first two baskets of the fourth quarter, extending the lead to 10 points and providing enough cushion to absorb Williams’ scoring burst.

Because they were playing at home and Chicago was short-handed, there was much more pressure on the Nets in Game 7. Brooklyn could not quite recover after falling behind by 17 points at halftime.

This game will be characterized throughout the offseason as a choke job in Brooklyn and a gutty effort in Chicago. The Bulls’ Tom Thibodeau produced one of the greatest one-game coaching performances in NBA history.

Coincidentally enough, Thibodeau’s last game as a Houston assistant coach came on May 5, 2007. That’s when the Jazz of Boozer and Williams lost an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter and fell behind by five, only to rally for a 103-99 victory in Game 7. The Jazz subsequently beat No. 8 seed Golden State and reached the Western Conference finals; the Rockets’ staff lost their jobs.

Six years later, Boozer helped make Thibodeau much happier.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com" target="_blank">class="TEXT_no_Indent">kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt

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