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Carlos Boozer late-game substitution raises some questions

Bulls forward Carlos Boozer wondered why he was taken out replaced by Brian Scalabrine late Bulls' loss Pacers Wednesday. |

Bulls forward Carlos Boozer wondered why he was taken out and replaced by Brian Scalabrine late in the Bulls' loss to the Pacers on Wednesday. | AP

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Updated: January 26, 2012 1:58PM

“Why am I out?” Those were the words Carlos Boozer mouthed to an assistant coach after being replaced by Brian Scalabrine with the Bulls trailing 92-89 with 57 seconds left in Wednesday night’s loss to the Pacers at the United Center.

Not only was the Bulls third-leading scorer and top rebounder being replaced during a critical moment of a game against a division rival, but backup power forward and defensive specialist Taj Gibson was unavailable with a high ankle sprain. That meant coach Tom Thibodeau thought Option C—Scalabrine—gave the Bulls a better chance of getting a stop than leaving Boozer on the floor.

“Why am I out?” The answer was obvious. He was being replaced by the little-used Scalabrine for defensive purposes.

The curious case of Carlos Boozer continues to unfold nightly at the United Center and NBA arenas around the country.

Much of the criticism leveled at Boozer from Bulls fans is unwarranted. It’s not his fault that he’s the player he is and not the player they want him to be. It’s almost as if Bulls fans had a distorted view of the free agent vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Foreman acquired before last season.

What fans see is what the Bulls got. If Boozer’s numbers are down it’s because his minutes are down as well. He’s not a great finisher inside. In fact, it sometimes seems his shooting percentage decreases the closer he gets to the basket. But fans complaining about him settling for jumpers don’t realize that’s precisely what he is being asked to do.

Critics often get so caught up in what Boozer doesn’t do they forget how effective and and Derrick Rose can be on the pick-and-roll. They forget all the times Boozer grabs a rebound and whips the ball to a streaking Rose for an easy layup. He’s averaging 15 points and eight rebounds while playing just over 30 minutes per game. There’s real value in all that.

More difficult to defend are the moments when Boozer becomes a defensive liability and more frequent times when he doesn’t provide the help Thibodeau’s defense requires in a timely enough fashion. Wednesday night’s game was a prime example, as David West, Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough helped the Pacers outscore the Bulls 50-40 in the paint.

Boozer has embraced the Bulls’ team concept on offense. When he says it’s not about how many points he scores but whether the team wins or loses he’s being sincere. He made two gorgeous passes to Ronnie Brewer for a reverse layup and a dunk against the Pacers. His face-up jumps shots are deadly and open up the floor for others.

But it’s fair to question whether he has completely bought in defensively. He never has been and never will be a great one-on-one defender. That’s OK. The Bulls aren’t a great one-on-one defensive team. It’s everybody executing their responsibilities within Thibodeau’s system that makes the defense greater than the sum of its parts.

Too often, breakdowns happen when Boozer doesn’t react quickly enough. There is often a hesitation on his part that is more pronounced because it happens only rarely with other players.

Him deciding against diving for a loose ball may not be something fans in other NBA cities even notice, for example. But it stands out on a team that’s go-for-broke mentality was illustrated by C.J. Watson dislocating his elbow diving for a loose ball during a 40-point victory over Memphis.

Rose had the ball in his hand and a chance to tie the game in the end. Whether he should’ve passed to a wide-open Scalabrine for a potential game-winning 3-pointer or created a shot for himself was debated afterward. The question Boozer must ask himself is, why was Scalabrine in the game? He might not like the answer.

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