- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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As the rest of his teammates filed out of the locker room on Sunday afternoon after Game 4, Boozer peeled some money out of his pocket to give to the visiting locker room attendants.
"Just so you (guys) know," he said. "We will be back."
At the time, it wouldn’t have been surprising if the young men laughed in his face. After losing Derrick Rose (torn ACL) and Joakim Noah (sprained ankle) in the span of a week, the Bulls looked emotionally broken as they left Philadelphia down 3-1. Boozer never lost faith in himself, though. He was always convinced that he could have a solid Game 5 and help push the series back to Philadelphia.
It turns out he was right.
The veteran forward came through for the Bulls down the stretch, scoring 19 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and pulling down eight assists. It was a performance the Bulls had to have in order to stay in this series.
"Booz knows he's going to get the ball almost the whole game now," Bulls guard Kyle Korver said. "We need to go through him. We need to have guys who can draw a double team we can make plays through. Jo and Derrick were two of our biggest guys for that so we need him not just to post up and shoot jump shots but to create offense for us. A lot of people here didn't watch Booz in Utah, but that's how we played in Utah, Booz got the ball almost every single time down the floor and he knows it's coming. He doesn't have to force anything, he doesn't have to rush anything. He's playing really great basketball the last couple games."
Boozer, and veteran teammate Luol Deng, knew that if the Bulls wanted to extend the series both of them had to be more assertive offensively. They had to impose their will on the game when given the chance. After combining to score 43 points and grabbing 21 rebounds, they gave their teammates that big lift which they had been searching for since Rose went down.
"They stepped up big," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "They are our leaders. They were aggressive on both offense and defense. They didn't take any plays off."
In Boozer's mind, the key difference in Game 5 was simple.
"I think the difference in the game was how we closed," he said. "I think our energy was great as normal. We were very active defensively, I thought, especially in the fourth quarter when it was most needed. I think throughout the game, that was probably the closest game since Game 1 that we played like us and everybody played great. We had guys contributing like crazy."
Boozer has always played better when he knows he'll be getting the ball throughout the game and that was the case again Tuesday night. He took 20 shots and gained more confidence as the game wore on.
"We're trying to find different ways to score and we have a lot of options," he said. "C.J. can score, Rip (Hamilton's) a scorer, Lu's a scorer, I'm a scorer. Taj, Kyle, we got a lot of guys that can put the ball in the basket, but we feel like we can go inside, make a couple plays. Early on it seemed like my teammates were just wide open, so I was just getting them wide open shots and in the third quarter I got a chance to get loose a little bit."
If the Bulls want to even up the series Thursday night in Philadelphia, Boozer knows he must continue to stay loose. With limited options offensively, he knows that he and his teammates must take advantage of the fact that they have a size advantage down low, an advantage that will grow even deeper if Noah is able to recover from his badly sprained ankle and play in Game 6.
"We have to (use the advantage)," Boozer said. "I think inside is a good matchup for us. I think also our pick and roll has been very efficient, very effective. We've got good shots (with) the pick and roll. But the key to us winning the series is our defense. The way we're swarming on defense, playing big, rebounding the ball. The fourth quarter tonight, the way we we played D was the reason why we won. We set the tone in the first quarter, but the fourth quarter we closed the game right way. If we can do that out there we'll be coming back here for Game 7."