Thomas erupts from slumber with 20 points

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The game-defining moment came late in the
first quarter, when the Washington Wizards became more than just
the Big Three. Larry Hughes drew a double team and passed to a wide
open Etan Thomas, whose two-handed dunk raised the roof and set the
tone for things to come.

The Wizards won their first playoff victory in 17 years
Saturday, beating the Chicago Bulls 117-99 with a big-man attack
notably absent in the first two games of the series.

Thomas scored 20 points on 8-for-9 shooting, grabbed nine
rebounds and led a third-quarter spurt that put his team in control,
supplementing an attack that had come to rely too heavily on
Hughes, Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison.

"He was the X-factor," Chicago guard Ben Gordon said. "He
really came in for them today and had an uncharacteristic game.
Usually you see Arenas, Jamison or Hughes doing something, but he
was very big."

The win was the first in the postseason for the Wizards since
May 8, 1988, when they beat Detroit 106-103 in Game 4 of a
first-round series. Of immediate concern for the Wizards is that
they cut the Bulls' series lead to 2-1, with Game 4 in Washington
on Monday.

"We were very desperate," said Brendan Haywood, who added
eight points and nine rebounds. "It's not impossible to come back
from 0-3, but it's definitely very hard. We would have had to pull
out our Boston Red Sox tapes."

The Bulls had taken a 2-0 series lead with their own X-factors --
Gordon and Andres Nocioni seemed unstoppable in Game 1, and Kirk
Hinrich made nearly everything he shot in Game 2 -- but the
over-the-top hero this time was a Wizards player known as much for
his long dreadlocks and his book of poems called "More Than an

Thomas took only five shots and scored nine points in the first
two games of the series combined, and his performance Saturday
nearly tripled his 7.1-point regular season average. He signed a
six-year, $36.6 million contract last summer but missed the first
32 games of the season with an abdominal injury.

"We have a special group in the Big Three, and I'm in the
supporting cast," Thomas said. "Tonight, they needed me. I had to
be ready just to finish. ... We can't rely on them totally for

The Big Three played their parts, but the trio gained
inspiration from unsung front-court players Thomas, Haywood and
Michael Ruffin, who had a season-high nine points. Arenas finished
with 32 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Hughes had 21
points and seven rebounds, and Jamison had 21 points and eight

Tyson Chandler had 15 points and 10 rebounds to lead six players
in double figures for the Bulls, who struggled with foul trouble in
a closely called, rhythm-less game that included 67 combined fouls
and 83 free throws. In addition, Gordon asked to leave the game at
one point because he was hampered by a virus that caused him to
miss practice Friday, and Nocioni was rocked momentarily after
taking a shot to the groin in a collision with Hughes in the third

Chandler and Antonio Davis both fouled out in the fourth -- Davis
was ejected when he confronted an official over his sixth foul --
and Hinrich got his fourth foul early in the third quarter.

"It is hard to beat a team three times in a row in this
league," coach Scott Skiles said. "They came ready today. We were
fortunate to be close at halftime. The chain of events with Kirk's
foul and Andres going out, we just didn't have enough guys that
played well to be in the game against a team of this quality in
their building."

The Bulls' scoring was balanced, but a Wizards defense much
maligned for its efforts in Chicago played more zone than usual to
hold the Bulls to 39 percent shooting and dominated the last 17
minutes of the game.

The game was tight, with the Wizards leading 74-71, when Thomas
and Ruffin scored nine gritty points in a 13-2 run that gave the
Wizards an 87-73 lead late in the third quarter. Both of Thomas'
baskets came on offensive rebounds, and Ruffin had a three-point
play off a feed from Arenas.

The Bulls never got within single digits again. Feeding off the
energy of the first NBA playoff game by this franchise played in
the District of Columbia -- the team was in Landover, Md., when it
last made the playoffs eight years ago -- the Wizards rattled the
Bulls' offensive threats and pulled away with an 8-0 run that built
a 20-point lead midway through the fourth quarter.

"They just played harder than us, flat out," said Chris Duhon,
who scored 12 points. "We didn't come and play as hard as we're
capable of playing. They were just aggressive than us, and we have
to find a way to slow them down."

Game notes
Chandler left the game briefly in the first quarter when he
dislocated the ring finger on his left hand. ... The Wizards
outrebounded the Bulls 12-4 in the first quarter, then were
outrebounded 16-8 in the second. ... The fans -- at least those who
showed up on time -- responded to Arenas' appeal to boo the Bulls
early and often. The arena was as loud as it has ever been during
the introduction of the starting lineups, but Washington's
reputation as a town where fans arrive late remained intact with
plenty of empty blue seats visible on every level at tipoff. Even
Kwame Brown, who regularly gets booed by the home fans, got a big
hand when he entered the game in the second quarter. ... The last
time the Wizards franchise had four 20-point scorers in a playoff
game was April 10, 1974, when Elvin Hayes (31), Mike Riordan (23),
Phil Chenier (22) and Archie Clark (20) led the Capital Bullets to
a 109-92 win over New York. ... Gordon played 25 minutes despite
his illness, but he made just 2 of 9 shots and scored eight points.
"I just didn't feel like myself," he said. "I felt a little weak
at times."