Kurt Thomas, Unlikely Hero

Nets win in rout, but the Knicks end their road trip on a high note

By Josh Alper
|  Tuesday, Mar 19, 2013  |  Updated 8:15 AM EDT
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Thomas turned the clock way back to get the Knicks a win.

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Shortly before the Knicks tipped off in Utah against the Jazz, word broke that Kurt Thomas had a bone spur in his foot that would need further examination once the team returned to New York. 

It felt like the fitting end to a road trip that had already claimed Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and whatever cushion the Knicks had left in the Atlantic Division. The Nets were in Detroit to play the pathetic Pistons and it seemed like a good bet that the one-game edge the Knicks enjoyed would be gone come Tuesday morning.

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But in the latest development to assure us that one must actually watch games instead of just assuming their result, Thomas did play and he gave the Knicks a season-high 27 minutes filled with activity on both ends of the floor. That led the team to the first win of their five-game road trip, a 90-83 victory that allowed the Knicks to remain in first place for another day. 

Outside of three blocked shots that defy physics because of his otherwise earthbound game, Thomas' numbers aren't anything that jump off the box score -- six points, three rebounds, two assists -- but his ability to bear down defensively isn't something particularly quantifiable. The official +/- says the Knicks were three points better with Thomas on the floor, but it felt much wider than that as Thomas was the anchor for a strong second half defensive effort across the board. 

The message was a simple one: I'm old, hurt and relatively lacking in skills, but I'll be damned if that's going to stop me from giving maximum effort. The rest of the Knicks clearly picked up on that, resulting in just 31 Jazz points and J.R. Smith giving up the deep heaves for drives that kept taking him to the free throw line. 

It helped that the Jazz missed plenty of open looks and that they were put together in an extremely haphazard way (how many power forwards can you really play at one time?) but the Knicks were the ones who would have to win the game. And win it they did. 

The Nets won too. Deron Williams had 31 points and Brooklyn rolled to a 119-82 win over a Pistons team that's incapable of resistance. 

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Seven more road games loom, however, and none are against a team as bad as Detroit until the finale against the Cavaliers. That makes Sunday night's collapse against the Hawks loom all the larger because the Knicks have now finished their grand scheduling obstacle without surrendering the final bit of their lead. 

Should that sliver of a lead hold up all the way through April, we'll remember a Monday night in Utah when Kurt Thomas saved the Knicks in a way he never really did during his salad days in the late 90s. Some people like when good things happen and others prefer when interesting things happen, but the Knicks got a taste of both in a much-needed win. 

Josh Alper is also a writer for Pro Football Talk. You can follow him on Twitter.

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