Boozer, Smith Feeling Pressure To Deliver

Carlos Boozer heard it in Game One and Two as the Bulls saw their first real bump in the road on the Derrick Rose coronation tour. Boozer scored just eight points in Chicago’s Game Two victory to go with 11 rebounds. He never really silenced the fans’ negative opinion of him until he scored 18 points in Chicago’s Game Four loss Sunday.

Josh Smith is used to hearing the catcalls. Occasionally he falls in love with his jumper too much and hears the groans from the crowd every time he hoists one up.

For both Boozer and Smith, neither has faced the kind of intense scrutiny and pressure that comes from being this deep in the postseason. Sure Boozer was in the Western Conference Finals with the Jazz, but he was never the key player on a team favored to win. And sure Smith has been this far too, but his team has never won a game in the conference semifinals before this year.

These two players, one could argue, hold the key to their team’s ultimate success… or failure. Whether they like it or not, they must accept the intense scrutiny upon them. So even after an 82-game season’s worth of accomplishments, a few bad or frustrating games in the postseason reveal their true worth.

Carlos Boozer had the added pressure of being Chicago’s big free agent signing. His five-year deal worth approximately $75 million made Boozer the highest paid player on the Bulls and came with a lot of pressure. Even if Derrick Rose made the leap he did, Chicago was still relying on Boozer to provide offensive punch. He averaged 17.5 points per game, his lowest average while playing at least 50 games since 2004, his last year in Cleveland.

When the postseason came around, Boozer struggled even more. He is averaging a career playoff low 10.7 points per game and 9.1 rebounds per game. He is shooting 42.4 percent from the floor. His 20.2 percent usage rate is the lowest of his playoff career as is his 17.1 rebounding rate.

You would expect some of these numbers to decrease because Boozer would be playing with a heavy-usage player like Derrick Rose (he has a league-high 36.6 percent usage rate this postseason) and another heavy rebounder like Joakim Noah beside him. But Boozer has struggled to fit in and you can clearly see it in his lowered statistics during the postseason.

What exactly has gone wrong for Boozer this postseason is a pretty hefty question for the Bulls to answer, one they will likely have to answer as they try to find a better offensive balance in their series against the Hawks. Boozer seemed to get himself going with a 2011 Playoff-high 18 points in Sunday’s Game Four loss. But Boozer has only two double doubles this postseason and none in the four games against Atlanta.

Fan disgust with Boozer was pretty high before the series shifted to Atlanta (chants of “Booz” did reign down from the Chicago faithful at Philips Arena on Sunday). Even former Bulls All Star Horace Grant chimed in:

“It will be a long time before I could be a head coach, because I don’t care how much money you get paid,” Grant told Melissa Isaacson of ESPN Chicago. “If you’re not producing more or if I feel you’re hurting the team, especially in the playoffs, I’d bench you. If Boozer is having an off-game scoring, he has to do other things. You have to rebound and you’ve got to play defense.”

It is clear everyone expects more from Carlos Boozer.

Josh Smith is very much in the same boat. Smith has always been a bundle of talent with a head that is not always screwed on right.

Last year, Smith shot just seven 3-point attempts and had one of his best seasons. Everyone hailed it as one of the best things Mike Woodson had ever done with Atlanta. Then Larry Drew gave him the green light to shoot threes again and Smith followed up with a career-high 154 3-point attempts and a career-high 328 field goal attempts from 16-23 feet, according to HoopData.

You could hear the groans every time Smith got the ball from that range and even thought about shooting. In Game Four he attacked the basket getting 11 shots at the rim. He also went 1 for 5 on shots from 16-23 feet. In Game Three, Smith had just five shots at the rim and was 0 for 6 from 16-23 feet. He scored 23 points Sunday while he scored 17 in Friday’s loss. 

Smith is a much more effective player when he is not relying on his jumper. And he is learning that the hard way in this playoff series as the Hawks try to make their first conference finals since the franchise was in St. Louis.

Clearly Boozer and Smith are not the be-all, end-all for success or failure for the Hawks and Bulls. But both teams need them to fill their roles more if they want to take control of the series with a Game Five victory Tuesday.

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About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily