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Carlos Boozer helps Bulls defeat Suns—in 4th quarter

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Updated: February 5, 2014 11:47AM



PHOENIX – It’s the latest “Thibs-ism.’’

“The circle.’’

A phrase that first came out of the coach’s mouth after the Monday night loss to Sacramento, and obviously has staying power as much as he’s been throwing it out there since.

And what became evident in Tuesday’s 101-92 Bulls win was you’re either in the circle or you’re miles out. Even with some late-game heroics in beating Phoenix, Carlos Boozer just might be inching his way to the outskirts.

The power forward made headlines on Monday when he questioned Thibodeau’s use of him in the fourth quarter, or more specifically, their lack of use of him.

“I think I should be out there, but it’s his choice,’’ Boozer said. “But honestly, he’s been doing that a lot since I’ve been here, not putting me in the fourth quarter. Sometimes we win, more times than not we don’t, but that’s his choice.’’

Check, Mr. Boozer.

Too bad Thibodeau put him in checkmate.

Not only did the coach rattle off all the numbers that say why Taj Gibson should be starting over Boozer in the fourth quarter, but took it a step further by going out of his way to point out how the unselfish, run-through-a-wall-if-asked Gibson is the model player in Thibodeau’s system.

“Sometimes you have to sacrifice what might be best for yourself for what’s best for the team,’’ Thibodeau said. “That’s what I love about Taj. Taj could be upset he’s not starting. He never complains. Whatever you ask him to do he just goes out there and does it. To me, what he does speaks volumes.’’

By Tuesday, general manager Gar Forman got involved, telling CSN Chicago, “I’m disappointed that Carlos didn’t keep that in-house.’’

Boozer’s reaction? Diffuse the situation as quickly as possible.

“Me and Thibs, we’re on the same page,’’ Boozer said. “We compete and just want to win. I’m a competitor. Of course I want to be out there when the game is on the line. If you have a teammate that doesn’t want to be out there, then he shouldn’t be in the NBA. We’re all competitors and want to win.’’

But before Boozer is crucified for his comments, there seemed to be a method to his madness. Boozer is very media savvy, and knows that if Luol Deng wasn’t safe in a Bulls uniform, no one is. With all the talk of Boozer’s pending amnesty this offseason building, it’s smart business for him to get the word out to other teams that he can handle fourth-quarter crunchtime and wants to be on the floor.

He was given that chance against the Suns, brought into the game with 3:46 left and just a four-point lead, and actually hit a key lay-up late to keep the Bulls (24-24) up six with 1:46 left to finish with 19 points.

The problem is Thibodeau-coached players rarely step outside “the circle.’’ Boozer did.

What remains to be seen is how and if Thibodeau makes him earn his way back in.

“The one thing I don’t like right now is you get into things together, you get out of things together,’’ Thibodeau said. “We need everyone in the circle, pulling in the same direction, fighting our way out of this.’’

Asked if he was singling out Boozer by saying that, Thibodeau bobbed and weaved.

“Nah, I don’t work like you guys [in the media],’’ Thibodeau said. “What’s next, something that was said a week ago? That’s gone. When I say fragmented, I’m talking about our team in the game when it’s not going our way. Not staying together.’’

Or so he says.

As far as Boozer’s late-game showing now earning him more fourth-quarter looks? This is Thibodeau we’re talking about.

“This is four years now, I’m not changing,’’ Thibodeau insisted after the win. “I’m going with the guys that I feel give us the best chance to win, and I don’t care who they are. When we hit that six-minute mark it’s based on what we’re doing and what we need. That’s the way it’s going to be.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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