SALT LAKE CITY — Carlos Boozer got into early foul trouble and wasn't much of a factor in Friday night's game against the Utah Jazz. Until the last two minutes and the final outcome was still very much on the line, that is.
That's when the veteran power forward, who spent six of his first 10 NBA seasons in a Jazz uniform, came back to haunt his former team, sticking a king-sized dagger into the hearts of hopeful Jazz fans and sending them home feeling disgruntled and disappointed following a disheartening defeat.
Boozer hit 5 of 6 free throws in the final 1:47 to help lift the Chicago Bulls to a 93-89 victory over Utah in a late-night, nationally televised matchup at EnergySolutions Arena.
Boozer wound up with 19 points — 11 of those coming in the fourth quarter — and although he was just 6 of 15 from the floor, it was his crunch-time foul shooting that made the difference down the stretch.
Boozer hit a free throw to give Chicago an 84-83 lead with 1:47 to play — and Chicago never trailed again. He hit two more foul shots to make it 86-83 with 59.9 seconds left, then cashed in again with two more free throws with 27 seconds to go, again giving the Bulls a three-point lead.
They held on from there
The 6-foot-9, 266-pound power forward spent six seasons — well, at least part of six seasons — playing for the Jazz. He was a two-time All-Star, a stellar, reliable scorer who averaged between 16.2 and 21.1 points per game for the Jazz. He was also the team's top rebounder during his days here (2004-10), averaging between 8.6 and 11.7 boards per game.
But he was roundly criticized by many fans and media members for a perceived lack of heart and desire after missing nearly one third of the team's games with a variety of injuries during his tenure as a Jazzman.
Utah coach Tyrone Corbin was asked to compare the Boozer of today with the one who once played for the Jazz.
"He's still Booz — very versatile big man, especially on the offensive end," Corbin said. "He's a big presence inside. He's a great passer for a big guy. I think he's having a great year for them, especially with them being shorthanded with (Derrick) Rose being out. He's able to get the ball in his hands a lot more, so I think he's doing well for them."
Boozer was one of the most polarizing players in Jazz history while he played in Utah, at least as far as the fans were concerned, because he wouldn't play hurt like his indestructible predecessor, Karl Malone.
But coach Corbin denied that the Jazz coaching staff was disappointed in what they got from the smooth-shooting big man during his stint in Utah.
"I don't think so here," Corbin said of Boozer's lightning-rod reputation. "Here, I thought he was a great player for us. He did everything we asked him to do. He was a great teammate for his guys. He was hurt, but you can't do anything about injuries. He's a great individual."
Boozer came into Friday's game as the Bulls' second-leading scorer on the season with 15.7 points per game, and he was also the team's second-best rebounder with 9.4 a game. He has 24 double-doubles, the third most in the Eastern Conference and seventh most in the entire NBA.
In his career, prior to Friday's performance, Boozer had averaged 18.3 points and nine rebounds a game against Utah, and he lit up the Jazz for 27 points, along with eight boards, in last year's game against the Jazz in Chicago.
But he has been the subject of recent trade rumors involving the Toronto Raptors, who according to published reports by Marc Stein of ESPN.com have been trying to unload Andrea Bargnani in exchange for Boozer, whose defensive deficiencies have been glaring throughout his career.
As is his custom, Boozer wouldn't speak to the media prior to Friday's late-night game.
But his coach, Tom Thibodeau, had some nice things to say about the 10-year NBA veteran.
"He gives us solid play, veteran leadership," the Bulls' head coach said. "He scores a lot of different ways. He rebounds the ball. And he's just done a very good job. He took a little bit of a hit when he hurt his hamstring, but he's gotten his timing back and played very well offensively (Thursday) night (in a loss at Denver)."
And on Friday, when the game was still in doubt, Boozer came back to haunt the Jazz.