Thomas shows why he's still in the league

December, 21, 2010
12/21/10
11:25
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- So far in his brief tenure with the Chicago Bulls, first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau hasn't cracked a lot of jokes in front of the media. It's all basketball all the time.

After watching 38-year-old Kurt Thomas give the Bulls 12 points, 8 rebounds and 5 blocks in a 45-point laugher over the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday night, even Thibodeau couldn't resist taking a light-hearted jab at the grizzled veteran.

"He has been doing it for 100 years," Thibodeau said.

[+] EnlargeKurt Thomas
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty ImagesKurt Thomas started on Tuesday night and gave the Bulls 12 points, 8 rebounds and 5 blocks against the 76ers.
Maybe not quite that long, but long enough to know that Thomas could produce when it counted. After sitting on the bench for most of the year, Thomas has been called into action after Joakim Noah's thumb surgery and has shown his team that he still has some gas left in the tank. With Taj Gibson on the bench with a concussion Tuesday night, Thomas got the starting nod and made the most of it.

"He is a smart player," Thibodeau said. "He plays great rebounding position. He's a great communicator. He helped out on defense tremendously. Offensively, he sets great screens whether it's a pick-and-roll or catch-and-shoot play. He is often going to be open and has the ability to step back and shoot. He spreads the defense out."

He also provided the type of stabilizing presence the Bulls needed after the jarring news of Noah's injury followed by a bad loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night. In Thomas, the Bulls have essentially cashed in a $1.8-million insurance policy. It's a policy that his teammates knew would pay dividends.

"He's a vet," Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said. "He's been around for a long time. He's been through a lot of battles before with the Knicks in the playoffs. He's battle tested. That's why he's here. That's why Tibs brought him in. He knew that if we needed a big to step in, he could be that guy to step in and give us big minutes. And he's prepared for this, he's been on teams before where he had to step up in Milwaukee ... Kurt Thomas is a good player."

He's a player the Bulls are lucky to have at the moment. Without Noah and Gibson, somebody had to come in and fill the void. Having done it so many times in the past, Thomas knew exactly what to do.

"Just go out there and do what I do," he said. "Play solid on the defensive end of the floor. Rebound the ball, really make the opposing team, the guys that I'm guarding, really work, and try to cover up the defense ... When the opportunity presents itself on the opposite end of the floor, shoot the ball, shoot the ball with confidence and knock it down."

That confidence was on full display. He had no problem draining jumper after jumper.

"He's a pick-and-pop player," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said. "Plays hard when he comes into the game and he's a veteran. One of the older leaders on this team."

In the process, at least for one night, they also realized that they can still function at a high level without Noah. Thomas somehow managed to block five shots without barely leaving the floor. It's a feat he is sure he will hear more about from his teammates in the near future.

"My teammates kind of get on me because I don't have that high of a vertical anymore," Thomas said. "But it's all in fun."

Pretty much everything was funny to the Bulls on this night.

Stat of the night: The Bulls had 32 assists. The Sixers had just 13.

The last word: "[The rout] helped us out a lot with our confidence going out on the road. We're going to be playing some talented teams where they can win if you don't come to play. We just tried to play good basketball tonight and we did."

Nick Friedell | email

Chicago Bulls beat reporter
Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jimmy Butler
PTS AST STL MIN
20.4 3.5 1.5 38.7
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsP. Gasol 10.6
AssistsD. Rose 5.4
StealsJ. Butler 1.5
BlocksP. Gasol 2.5