- The Washington Times - Monday, May 2, 2005

Not even the Washington Wizards believe the way to keep winning in their first-round playoff series against the Chicago Bulls is to get huge games from second-tier players.

So don’t anticipate a repeat of Etan Thomas’ star turn tonight at MCI Center in Game4. Thomas finished with 20 points and nine rebounds Saturday, when the Wizards rose up and smacked the Bulls 117-99 at MCI Center for their first victory of the series.

That’s not because Thomas isn’t a good player; he has shown in the past he can put up big numbers in a pinch. But Thomas’ performance was, as Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said yesterday, “just gravy on the potatoes.”

“I don’t think they’ll pay extra attention to Etan because there are not a lot of plays for him,” Jordan said. “It’s not like he’s getting the ball and we’ve got people cutting around him and they’re thinking, ‘We have to take this away.’ I don’t think they’ll be doing that with Etan Thomas.”

No, they won’t. In this series, the Bulls are the team that is the sum of its parts, the Wizards the sum of Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Larry Hughes. Washington’s ancillary players do little things here and there.

And nobody is expecting that to deviate. In fact, after Saturday’s loss, the Bulls, who have had it pounded in their brains to stop the Wizards’ “Big Three,” were lamenting that Thomas broke the mold.

“I’m disappointed we let Etan beat us,” the Bulls’ Tyson Chandler said. “That’s no knock. He played great. We just can’t allow a player like Thomas coming off the bench to beat us.”

While that could be perceived as a shot at Thomas and some of his teammates, the Wizards have had to buy into Jordan’s philosophy: Everyone on the team has a role, and in order for the Wizards to be successful those roles must be filled.

In the victory, Thomas combined with teammates Michael Ruffin and Brendan Haywood to score 37 points on 12-for-15 shooting. The trio also pulled down 21 rebounds. The Wizards used a 13-2 run to extend their lead to 87-73, an outburst that was Washington’s first big run in the series.

Jamison, one of four Wizards to score at least 20 points in Game3, said his teammates’ sacrifices have enabled him, Arenas and Hughes to blossom.

“You have to complement our teammates,” Jamison said. “In a lot of situations, egos would take over and jealousy and things like that. Our teammates have done a great job as far as letting us get the attention of the ‘Big Three’ and all of that. But those guys have done what’s been asked of them all year. They step up and play important roles like they did last night. I’m just happy that some of the guys are starting to get the attention they deserve.”

And it’s a responsibility Thomas and the others don’t question.

“I know my role on this team, and that role is to be in the supporting cast,” Thomas said. “We’re a perimeter team. We have three special players out there, and they score the majority of our points and take the majority of our shots. That’s elementary.”

What’s not so elementary is how the Bulls will respond to their first loss in the series. The Wizards figure they will have to meet a more stout challenge tonight.

“They came here to steal one,” Jamison said. “We can’t let them get this next game. Falling behind 3-1 would be terrible.”

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