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Injury-plagued Bulls will go as far as maligned Carlos Boozer will take them

Bulls forward Carlos Boozer grabs rebound front Sixers center Lavoy Allen second half Chicago Bulls 77-69 wover Philadelphi76ers game five

Bulls forward Carlos Boozer grabs a rebound in front of Sixers center Lavoy Allen in the second half of the Chicago Bulls 77-69 win over the Philadelphia 76ers in game five of the first round of the NBA playoffs Tuesday May 8, 2012 at the United Center in Chicago. | TOM CRUZE~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 11, 2012 10:22AM



The message the Bulls sent Tuesday in Game 5 was as subtle as a shot blocked into the third row or an elbow to the ear.

This team is going to go out on its own terms, regardless of whether Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah or even Taj Gibson is healthy enough to play in Game 6 Thursday against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center.

This team earned that right by posting the best record in the regular season despite myriad injuries. The Bulls shouldn’t let the circumstances dictate how far they advance in this series, not after establishing a standard of play they didn’t meet in three consecutive losses but reached in a do-or-die Game 5 at the United Center.

Had the 76ers eliminated the Bulls, the offseason would’ve been spent with talk about how the sky was falling on the Bulls.

The reality is a different story.

Can they beat the Miami Heat in a playoff series? Unfortunately, that question was tabled when Rose tore his anterior cruciate ligament in Game 1.

Regardless of how sure some are that these Bulls aren’t good enough, what we’ve seen during those brief periods when the entire roster was healthy was encouraging. Barring something unforeseen, expect the Bulls to keep this core intact. They don’t have much of a choice because of salary-cap considerations. Some role players will be replaced. But even if Rose and Luol Deng miss the first couple of months next season while recovering from knee and wrist surgeries, respectively, the Bulls will be one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference.

Forget about home-court advantage. If they can survive the early absence of their two best players, and Deng and Rose can return to the lineup, stay healthy and establish rhythm and chemistry, these Bulls can be championship contenders at this time next season. Those who believe this team should be dismantled are overreacting to an unfortunate, injury-marred season.

As for this season’s run, it could end in Game 6, or in Game 7 on Saturday or in the next round against the Boston Celtics or Atlanta Hawks. The only momentum won during a gritty performance in Game 5 can be found in the ice buckets in the training room where the swollen ankles of Noah and Gibson are soaking.

In the meantime, this team will only go as far as the much-maligned Carlos Boozer will take it.

It’s time for his critics to quit focusing on what he doesn’t do well and agree he needs the ball. Boozer needs more touches, not fewer. That has been the case on and off during the regular season and when the offense has struggled, and it was obvious in Game 5.

He shot too many of his rocking-chair jumpers to please some people, but the fact remains Boozer made 53 percent of his shots in the regular season and is shooting 47 percent in the playoffs. Factor in his ability to get others involved — he tied a personal playoff high with six assists Tuesday — and he’s the most reliable offensive weapon the Bulls currently employ.

Boozer was more of a focal point on offense when he was in Utah. He got the ball in the low block more, the way he did in Game 5. The more he gets the ball, the more comfortable he seems. With Noah and possibly Gibson on the bench, and Omer Asik taking a step back offensively this season, he’s the only option coach Tom Thibodeau has to play inside-out.

Thibodeau has been searching for combinations since Game 2. He found one that can have a positive impact when Gibson and Boozer were on the floor. It’s a combination you can expect to see again in Game 6 if Gibson recovers enough from the twisted right ankle he suffered late in the third quarter.

They need Asik and Ronnie Brewer for defense and energy. They need C.J. Watson to make some jumpers and Kyle Korver to keep bombing away to win this series and make everybody feel better about a team nobody should’ve been disappointed in in the first place, considering the circumstances.



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