Kurt Thomas was all smiles in the Suns’ locker room on Tuesday night, and I couldn’t help but smile for him myself.
Kurt Thomas recorded 12 points and four rebounds in the Suns’ Game 2 win.
More often that not this season, the veteran center would dress quietly in front of his cherry-wood cubicle, while next-door neighbor and low-post apprentice Amaré Stoudmire would be surrounded by reporters and cameras after games. But “Dirty” was high on the list of media targets following the Suns’ 20-point win in Game 2 of the Conference Semis, and for good reason.
After sitting out the Suns’ playoff run a year ago, and seeing just 18 minutes a game this regular season – his fewest per night in the last nine years – Thomas drew the long straw and the starting nod Tuesday, and took full advantage of the opportunity. In his 28 minutes and three seconds of court time, the 34-year-old scored 12 points, on 6-of-7 field goals, grabbed four boards and three steals.
“It was awesome,” he told me when I asked how it felt. “It was just great to go out there and contribute, to help the team out and do whatever we can, especially in the playoffs. That’s what you play for.”
The real reason Thomas got a chance to play, of course, was because of the defense Coach D’Antoni hoped he could provide. And, although he downplayed his defense Tim Duncan to just “decent,” Thomas definitely made the Spurs’ All-Star work hard, particularly in the fourth quarter when he missed three-of-four shots.
“I just try not to let him catch the ball, that’s the biggest thing,” Kurt said. “They pound the ball into him and he’s just a tremendous player. He really knows how to use his body, and he has great footwork, and a tremendous touch shooting the ball, especially the way he shoots it off the glass.
“But I definitely could do a better job. You have to realize, he still scored (29) points tonight. So I definitely have to break down the tape and make corrections from tonight. The key is to just make him work, so in the fourth quarter, hopefully, he’ll have tired legs and his shot will come up a little short.”
Now, the question on several reporters minds was does Kurt get tired, running up and down in the Suns’ up-tempo offense? Thomas just laughed.
“It’s fun when you get the opportunity to run up and down like that, so it definitely makes the game very exciting, instead of walking the ball up the floor,” he said. “I definitely enjoy it. It reminds me when I played in college, my senior year, and I led the nation in scoring and rebounding. We would just run up and down, just pushing the ball and pressing. That was college. We don’t really press that much here, but we’re trying to get as many offensive possessions as we can.”
Barbosa Deserving of Hustle Award
I had planned on writing a blog last game about Leandro Barbosa winning the 202007 Dan Majerle Hustle Award, one of my favorite annual honors. But after the disappointing loss – which saw a couple of late-game mistakes by LB – I decided to hold off.
The Blur was back up to speed in Game 2, however, and showed why he was deserving of the recognition with his all-out effort, especially during the second quarter. If you watched the game, you’ll remember the moment when he raced past Spurs guard Tony Parker and his own teammate, Stoudemire, to rescue a loose ball that was headed out of bounds. Then less than a minute later, he was scrapping with the Spurs and diving for another ball, which he came up with and fed Steve Nash for a quick lay-up. They were just two plays, but fired up the sold-out crowd.
“I think hustling is the key for the game,” he told me Sunday. “Whatever I have to do to win the game, I will do with all my heart.”
It’s that attitude, of course, that earned Leandro the fifth annual award, which was voted on by five equally-weighted groups: Suns fans, employees, coaches, players and “Thunder Dan” himself.
“LB’s been great this year,” said Majerle, who presented LB with a large silver trophy shaped like Dan’s retired No. 9. “He comes off the bench and gives them a spark, much like I did in my younger days of my career. So I’m happy for him. He plays extremely hard and has really worked on his game. I couldn’t be more pleased.”
The NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year couldn’t have been more pleased himself. I was with Suns VP of Basketball Operations David Griffin when he told the 25-year-old guard that he had won the award prior to Game 1. LB’s eyes, which were glued to game film in the players’ lounge at the time, grew almost as big as his trademark smile.
“Wow, thank you to all of them,” he said of the voters. “I’m very happy and I appreciate that. I always want to do good things for the Suns, so thank you. It was a surprise.
“Dan Majerle was very, very good player. I used to watch him when I was little kid back in Brazil. It’s big time, big time!”