Trevor Booker pumped his fist and leaned over the baseline after Chicago Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich missed the first of two free throws with 2.4 seconds remaining in Game 2 of the Wizards’ first-round playoff series. Realizing that Hinrich was set to intentionally miss the second attempt, Booker raised his elbows to his chest and swung them back and forth eight times.
It was box-out time. The Bulls’ energetic reserve, Taj Gibson, had nine offensive rebounds on Tuesday, one more than the entire Wizards team, and Booker was in the game with the sole purpose of making sure that he wouldn’t get another rebound and possibly tie the game.
Booker sought out Gibson instead of the ball, clearing out enough space to let Trevor Ariza tap the ball out to John Wall, who grabbed it and slung it to the other end of the floor, securing a 101-99 overtime win. “I just try to play some good defense on him, keep him off the glass,” Booker said of Gibson. “I had him frustrated most of the time, and I think I did a pretty good job.”
Booker couldn’t keep Gibson completely under wraps, but he was able to match his hustle and make him work a little harder. He matched Ariza with a game-high eight rebounds and scored nine points and played all but eight seconds in the fourth quarter and overtime. Coach Randy Wittman opted to go with Booker over Marcin Gortat, who had a rough night trying to contend with Gibson and Joakim Noah.
“He was battling with Gibson, you know, down on the boards. That was basically what it boiled down to – rebounding,” Wittman said of Booker. “I thought he defended him in the post, fought him in the post, and he came up with a big block down the stretch there. It was just his grittiness, his toughness that he gave us, and that was what I enjoyed.”
In 45 starts this season, Booker proved that he could be a dependable role player in his time as an understudy. And, he has stayed in the rotation though Wittman has other veteran options in Al Harrington and Drew Gooden.
“It not only gave me confidence,” Booker said of his time as a starter, “but it gave the coaching staff confidence in me. They’ve seen what I can do out there on the court. Right now, I think they trust me in big situations. That was definitely huge.”
The Wizards went 16-10 with Booker finishing out the regular season as the starter while Nene was sidelined with a left knee injury. But Booker knew all along that he would have to return to the bench the moment Nene felt well enough to play extended minutes again. That moment arrived before Game 1, when Nene led the Wizards to a 102-93 win by scoring 24 points.
Booker, one of three players who has been with the Wizards the past four seasons, appeared overwhelmed in his playoff debut as he struggled to gain his footing and Bulls players shot right over him. But he bounced back in Game 2, knocking over players and shoving them around in a style the 6-foot-8 Booker embraces. In overtime, Booker made two huge free throws to put the Wizards ahead, 99-93, with 58 seconds remaining.
“That’s my kind of game,” Booker said. “I love to be physical. Everyone was out there being physical. I mean, just an overall physical game, and I think we did a better job in the end. Whether it’s coming off the bench, or starting, I’m still going to go out there and play with a lot of energy. My motor, it was great. I felt good. My teammates were huge. We played as a team. We kept grinding and we came out with a win.”