The Los Angeles Lakers planted those big, long trees around him. The Houston Rockets game-planned their strong defense around him.
But Jazz power forward Carlos Boozer still managed to improve on his season rebound average in the just-concluded playoffs. Boozer went from 10.4 rebounds a game in the regular season to 12.3 in the playoffs.
When it came to being able to shoot, though, Boozer had a hard time buying baskets, even if he did make $11.5 million for the season.
After the Jazz season ended Friday night in a 108-105 loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals in EnergySolutions Arena, Boozer apologized.
He had averaged 16.0 points in the 12 playoff games, down from 21.1 points a game during the regular season and well below how he'd done in his first playoff experience last year. Then he scored 23.5 a game for 17 games, up nearly three full points from how he'd done in the 2006-07 regular season.
"I think I had a phenomenal year. I don't think I had the playoff series I wanted to have, either of the two series," Boozer said at Saturday morning's locker clean-out session.
"As a leader of this team and a cornerstone of this team, I feel like I let my teammates down by not making shots. But at the same time, I'm going to learn from it. I'll move on and be better next year."
He has a long list of improvements he wishes to make. "Yeah, I'm going to attack everything and come back a better player," he vowed, though he'll spend much of the summer vying for and likely being part of the U.S. Olympic team.
Those around Boozer say opponents were able to smother him because perimeter players didn't shoot well enough to demand being closely guarded. But they also say Boozer just missed shots.
"You give a guy the ball, you can't make shots for him," point guard Deron Williams said. "Sometimes guys struggle from the field. It happens. They defended him well. It wasn't like he wasn't getting touches.
"I think Booz is going to bounce back. He just had a tough playoff series. Missed some shots that he usually makes. It happens. It's not a big deal."
Coach Jerry Sloan said he hopes the wings work on their shooting to ease pressure on Boozer. But he clearly hopes Boozer does learn from this. "You have to help yourself. We can make all the suggestions in the world. It's like telling Karl Malone how to shoot free throws. We'd love for the guy to succeed, but when it's all said and done, he's the man."
"I think that the Lakers took a lot of stuff away," forward Matt Harping said. "They were doubling him and making it hard on him. I think this is a great opportunity for him to learn and get better. He's still young. He's an All-Star this year. I think he's going to get better."
Actually, Boozer's shooting woes started with the first games in April. He'd had a wonderful March, scoring 20-plus in 10 of the 16 games, including 41 at New Jersey on March 16. But in the 19 games once April started to the end of the season, Boozer had 20 or more only four times. He had 20 to open Game 1 of Utah's playoffs at Houston, making 10 of 20 shots. He had 27 in Game 3 against the Lakers on May 9, making 12 of 21 shots, feeling that night like his slump was busted.
"That seemed like a decade ago, didn't it?" Boozer said Saturday.
"I don't even know what to tell you about it," he continued.
"Shots didn't go in, got a couple calls called against me, didn't finish a couple plays that I've been finishing all my life, but that's part of basketball."
It seemed so strange that Boozer's offensive game deserted him at just the wrong time. During the team's miserable December when the road losses piled up, Boozer scored 19 or more points in 14 of the 15 games and had a 39-point outing at Atlanta. In November, he had 13 games of 19 or more out of the 15 played.
And those were months when he was missing his family back home in Miami until young son Carmani got the OK to live in Utah, where altitude could interfere with his progress in sickle cell disease.
The family returned to Miami during the playoffs because Carmani was having trouble dealing with Utah's temperature changes, getting sick at times. He has what Boozer calls a "D-Day" coming up, more tests to determine his progress, and the family wanted him feeling well.
Boozer said he doesn't know if he was affected by missing the family.
"My family being away? Oh, who doesn't think about their family?" he said.
But he didn't use it as an excuse by any means."I felt like I was getting the same opportunities I had, I just wasn't finishing shots. We are human," he said.
E-mail: [email protected]