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Carlos Boozer finally shows up for the Bulls

Bulls forward Carlos Boozer dunks over Hawks’ Josh Smith en route 23-point effort. | KevC. Cox~Getty Images

Bulls forward Carlos Boozer dunks over the Hawks’ Josh Smith en route to a 23-point effort. | Kevin C. Cox~Getty Images

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Updated: June 14, 2011 12:34AM

ATLANTA — This was the blueprint all along.

It was supposed to be front and center throughout the opening-round series with a foul-first, ask-questions-later Indiana Pacers team. It was supposed to be on display again against an Atlanta Hawks squad that had a game more suited for Harlem’s Rucker Park than prime time in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

This blueprint called for Carlos Boozer providing the body blows for three quarters, and then Derrick Rose cutting off the head in the fourth — Option No. 2 handing the game off to option No. 1.

No muss, no fuss, no problem.

If only it was that simple.

But there was a problem. A big one. All 6-9, 266 pounds of him. Boozer wasn’t cooperating. He wasn’t playing like a second option. Heck, there were games where he wasn’t any option.

Then came Thursday, when the Bulls needed him to show up most. Boozer finally arrived.

The forward scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds — his first 20-10 game of the playoffs — in the 93-73 route of a Hawks team that played like the end was near right from the tip.

The man who heard more “boos” than “Booooooz” throughout the playoffs gave the Bulls hope. It’s a hope that in tackling the Miami Heat’s Big Three, they at least show up to the fight with a Big Two.

“He’s feeling a lot better,’’ Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of Boozer, hinting that the turf toe was more of an anchor for his forward than was let on. “You can see it in the last three games. Moves are a lot better, he’s jumping, offensively you can see he’s got his bounce back.’’

A bounce that accounted for a sniper-like 10-for-16 shooting, including 3-for-3 from the stripe.

“Boozer makes shots like that, it’s tough,’’ Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “Everything we tried, he scored on. We trapped it, Boozer made the shot. We zoned it, Boozer made the shot. We tried everything.’’

With that said, the Hawks aren’t exactly known for their defense.

And they certainly aren’t the Heat.

Once the Bulls discovered they were left out of “The Decision’’ last July, and then-free agent LeBron James was “taking his talents to South Beach’’ to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Boozer was Plan B. Yes, he was the consolation prize, but he was also thought to be an equalizer as a No. 2 option to Rose.

Injuries, timid play and an allergy to defense, however, eventually put Boozer in the cross hairs. Specifically, the cross hairs of a growing mass of frustrated Bulls fans.

Thursday was a sort of redemption.

“This is huge,’’ Rose said of Boozer’s Game 6. “Definitely huge. Booz had everything going, and I just kept feeding him the ball.

“He made some plays. His confidence was right there, but [Thursday night] raised his confidence even more, which will only help him in the next series.’’

Will it?

The Bulls better hope so. All the talk of team defense, and “we do it by committee’’ is cute for an after-school special, but the Heat weren’t put together to do cute. And the NBA playoffs are where cute usually checks out.

The knock on the Bulls throughout the playoffs was there was no second option. It was a one-man show all over again, reminiscent of the Jordan Years. Derrick and the “Rose-aires.’’

And that wasn’t cutting it.

Now, there’s at least something on tape to concern Miami. Thanks to Boozer showing he had a mid-range jumper off the pick-and-roll to go along with his down-low presence, the Heat have something else to spend practice time on.

“Day by day, I’m getting better. I felt great,’’ Boozer said, sounding like a guy who was getting close to 100 percent on the health front. “The 15-, 17-footer was there and I just shot it.’’

As far as the Big Three facing off against the Big Two, Boozer wasn’t getting caught up in that.

“All of us have to do our jobs,’’ Boozer said. “We’ve been a team all year long. It’s not a one-man show, but our one man [Rose] is pretty good. We rely on everybody.’’

Give Boozer credit. Even with the game, over he did have one more shot to take, and it wasn’t with a ball in his hand.

Asked about facing Miami’s Big Three, he responded, “They have two great players in D. Wade and LeBron. We look forward to the challenge.’’

No mention of Bosh?

There it was, one more body blow.

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