Bulls get another great night from Thomas

January, 24, 2011
1/24/11
11:24
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- All right, be honest. Did anyone think these words would be uttered about Kurt Thomas after a Chicago Bulls game this season?

"He's the reason why we won tonight," said Derrick Rose, after the Bulls finished off a 93-82 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night at the United Center.

[+] EnlargeKurt Thomas
Jerry Lai/US PresswireKurt Thomas had 22 points and nine rebounds for the Bulls in Monday's win over the Bucks.
Rose was dead serious in his praise for the 38-year-old veteran.

Thomas poured in a team-high 22 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists as the Bulls won their third game in a row. It's hard to decipher which is most stunning -- Thomas' effort or the fact that the Bulls are now 17 games over .500.

Neither one shocks Rose and his teammates. They weren't surprised by Thomas' performance and they certainly don't seem to be surprised to hold a 13-game lead in the Central Division.

"That's why we're a team," Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer said. "Y’all came to the arena tonight; nobody knew that Kurt Thomas would be our leading scorer on all jump shots. But he knew. He knew what he was going to do tonight. That's the weird thing about the team, you never know who it's going to be. Everybody on this team can play and everybody contributes to winning.

“And tonight it was one of them nights where we needed somebody else to step up. They did a good job on me and D. Rose. And [Thomas] stepped up in a big way."

A very big way. Thomas repeatedly drained the open looks the Bucks gave him, showing why he was such a big offseasn pickup for Bulls general manager Gar Forman and head coach Tom Thibodeau. It's hard to imagine where the Bulls would be without Thomas, considering how well he's played in place of the injured Joakim Noah. For a guy who often didn’t dress for the first two months of the season, Monday night's performance was especially sweet.

"I've been known as the guy who can hit that shot my whole career,” Thomas said. “But the last couple of years, my shots have been down. But I just love playing, and when it's there, I just try to be a team player. If the shot is there, take it. If not, swing the ball and try to find one of my teammates if he's open or set a pick to get him open. But when the shot is there, I have confidence that I can make it."

That confidence extends to his teammates.

"He was on fire, man," Boozer said. "Listen, we did that pick and roll and Kurt was wide open. He always be proclaiming how good his jump shot is, because he be having some good jump shot practices, but today he carried us. Real talk. He carried us the whole first half. He carried us to start the second half. That's why we got him here. He's a 16-year vet. He never gets rattled. Always got the same demeanor. Never gets too high, never gets too low. And tonight we called on him because he was wide open. He was knocking [shots] down for us. He took a lot of pressure off me and D. Rose."

While the younger players may give him a hard time about his age, it's clear that Thomas is one of the most respected players in the locker room. He does all the little things well, and that isn't lost on Rose or anyone else wearing a Bulls jersey.

"Rebounding the ball very good. Playing aggressive, D'd up," Rose said. "And that's why we look up to him on this team because he's been through a lot and he's helping us right now."

The 22-year-old just wishes he could have more time with his aging teammate.

"I'm mad that he's not a little bit younger," Rose said. "I could play with him a little bit more. But I'm just going to cherish these times I'm playing with him."

When you hear things like that, and you see the way the Bulls are playing, it's nights like this that make you understand why this team has been successful all year. Milwaukee shot 46 percent from the field, but they still came up short. Rose and Boozer didn't have their usual dominant games, but the Bulls still found a way. Their defense was mostly solid and Thomas hit shots when needed. The formula isn't always the same for this team, but the results are. On this night, it was the 38- year-old big man that led the way.

Who will it be next time?

The fact that it's a legitimate question shouldn't surprise anyone anymore.

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
20.2 3.2 1.7 38.7
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsP. Gasol 11.8
AssistsD. Rose 5.0
StealsJ. Butler 1.7
BlocksP. Gasol 1.9