Bulls even series, but Noah wants fans to stop booing Boozer
Tom Thibodeau has several repetitive guidelines for team success, which he emphasizes almost daily. One of the most common phrases is don't skip any steps.
So after losing Game 1 to Atlanta, the Bulls got serious about the basic, 62-win building blocks of defense and rebounding.
During the Bulls' 86-73 victory on Wednesday, which evened the second-round series at 1-1, Atlanta was pestered into shooting 33.8 percent from the field, while the Bulls dominated the rebounds 58-39.
Through it all, center Joakim Noah noticed something wasn't quite right and didn't skip over it. He addressed the issue during a postgame interview that was broadcast across the United Center.
Noah asked fans to "support every one of us," and it was obvious what he meant. The fans are getting restless with power forward Carlos Boozer.
There was a murmur in the first quarter when Taj Gibson simply walked to the scorer's table to check in for Boozer and audible cheers when the team's primary free-agent acquisition of last summer left the floor.
In Noah's mind, that's simply not acceptable. In the hallway after the game, he was passionate about the topic.
"I love our fans. We have the best fans in the NBA, no question about it," Noah said. "But I understand our fans are very demanding and that can be very good and in some aspects that can be bad, as well.
"Carlos is in a situation where he's hurt and he's giving us everything he can. I've been in the position where I've been booed before in the United Center and I know to get to where we want to get to, we need Carlos. We should be supporting him. I don't understand that."
Boozer is playing through a painful turf toe injury suffered in the series-clinching win over Indiana last week. He contributed to the Bulls' rebounding dominance Wednesday, grabbing 11. He hit 4 of 12 shots for 8 points. Noah was arguably the star of the game with 19 points and 14 rebounds.
It's an odd comparison, too, because Noah was a lost rookie when he was hearing boos at the United Center. Boozer, 29, is a nine-year veteran who has been an all-star, an Olympian and played in the conference finals.
Obviously, that's why the fans want to see more.
"Not a lot of people know what that feels like to be a worker, work hard and be in position where you get booed by your home crowd," Noah continued. "Booz is an emotional player. The crowd has a lot to do with his game. He enjoys that. I enjoy playing to the crowd. The crowd has a big impact on what we do. We realize that.
"I just want to show some support for my teammate and what he's going through right now, because I don't think it's fair."
Noah's reaction reflected the personality of the Bulls. This has been going on privately for some time, players encouraging Boozer to stick with it and telling him how much he means to the team.
It might be fair to say Boozer hasn't met expectations after signing an expensive free-agent deal this season, except that the Bulls have gone 67-22 since the day he autographed his contract.
"Carlos is giving us everything he has," Thibodeau said. "He's nicked up, but he's playing hard. The rebounding is huge. We need that rebounding. His offense will come around."
Overall, the Bulls did what they want to do against Atlanta -- contest shots. The Hawks don't get many points on the inside, so challenging their jump shots is the first step to keeping the score low.
Atlanta never scored more than 83 points against the Bulls in the regular season, then jumped to 103 in Game 1 as Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford combined for 56 points. In Game 2, that pair scored 27 points, while Crawford hit 2 of 10 shots.
MVP Derrick Rose finished with 25 points, 10 assists, 8 turnovers and 6 rebounds. He probably described things best before the contest.
"I think we watched enough film and prepared for this game way different than other games we played in that we lost," he said. "We went over some things so guys aren't out there on an island (defensively)."