If you'd only heard what they were saying, you wouldn't be so surprised. Kurt Thomas
told everyone who wanted to listen, and those who didn't, that if he ever played 35 minutes, he'd get a double-double. Glen Rice
35 minutes (36.2 to be exact) over a 12-year career. Rice is a player of such dangerous accuracy that rumors have it he fell out of bed scoring 20 points in a game. But he still had to remind his coach recently that he still knew how to fill up the basket.
For most of the season, both were not starters. Thomas saw time behind Marcus Camby
and Larry Johnson
, while Rice got extended minutes only when his foot wasn't hurting or when Latrell Sprewell
or Allan Houston
was. But when injury and then tragedy came calling in the first-round series against the Raptors, there were Thomas and Rice, ready to step in and justify their talk.
Kurt Thomas scoring and defending and Glen Rice doing his thing.
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Moving into the starting lineup to replace the injured Johnson, Thomas has been true to his word in the first three games of the series, averaging 16.3 points and 11.3 rebounds in 40.3 minutes of work. His task was complicated in Game 3 by the absence of Camby, who took time off to deal with the aftermath of his family's hostage situation. Thomas was forced to play extended minutes at center, and was often joined by an unlikely power forward -- Rice.
After a 20-point loss in Game 2, Rice was aching to get in the lineup, and let it be known that he was still around to provide an offensive spark. And while Jeff Van Gundy was not about to sit Houston and Sprewell for long stretches, he did find a way to keep Rice on the court longer, and at the same time, take home-court advantage back from Toronto.
By playing the majority of his 31 minutes at power forward, Rice was able to exploit his quickness advantage over Charles Oakley
, torching the bulky veteran for 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting. There were quick drives to the hoop and classic Rice jumpers. With Thomas and Othella Harrington
doing the heavy lifting inside, Rice joined Houston (24 points) and Sprewell (20) in a dominant perimeter display that was the difference in Game 3.
Rice had called for his explosion after Game 2, when he said, "When guys can't find the basket, I think it's a must that you try and find baskets elsewhere. And why not start with me? Eight shots is not enough for me, but I just keep fighting and keep hanging in there. One thing about being a shooter is that you can miss maybe four shots in a row, but if you continue to get opportunities, you'll catch fire. And I know that about me."
Rice's comments were not selfishly motivated. During the regular season, New York was 19-7 when Rice scored 15 or more points.
"Most guys who ask for more don't deliver more, and he delivered more," Van Gundy said after Game 3.
While Rice's performance was a reminder of a stellar past (he has a career average of 19.5 points), Thomas has provided a glimpse of what he always thought he was capable of. With Patrick Ewing
in Seattle and Camby and Johnson each fighting various maladies during the regular season, Thomas responded to increased playing time with career-high averages of 10.4 points and 6.7 rebounds. In 29 starts, he upped those numbers to 12.0 points and 8.0 rebounds. Still, it was not until these playoffs that Thomas truly resembled the player who once led the nation in scoring and rebounding as a senior at Texas Christian.
"A lot of people have had respect for my game for a while, but I'm just starting to get the opportunity to play more minutes," said Thomas. "People are starting to see more of me. I'm now trying to develop my game and cherish the moment."
Already known as a tough defender and rebounder, Thomas has unveiled a previously unseen repertoire of offensive moves, providing the Knicks with unexpected scoring from the post. Meanwhile, Rice remains a dangerous wild card off the bench, capable of exploding at a moment's notice. Throw in the expected return of Camby for Game 4 and the always-strong play of Houston and Sprewell, and the supposedly offensively challenged Knicks suddenly have a bevy of options.
Of course, if you only had trusted the words of Thomas and Rice, you would have known that all along.
Compiled with material from
The New York Times and
New York Post.