The Knicks are down 3-0 to the New Jersey Nets with Game 4 of the best-of-seven series Sunday at Madison Square Garden. Thomas couldn’t do much Saturday to help his teammates get ready for the elimination game because back spasms kept him on the sidelines.
“Nothing’s changed, it’s frustrating,” he said after doing light shooting and hanging out on the court with assistant coaches Herb Williams and Mark Aguirre following the Knicks’ 90-minute practice.
Thomas, acquired in February, has been out since Game 1 when a flagrant foul by Jason Collins left him with a bruised back and ankle. The 27-year-old forward said the ankle is sore, but it’s the back spasms that are keeping him off the court.
“I’m doing everything possible. Needles … you name it, I’m doing it,” he said. “Next is dirt.”
He wasn’t ready to give up yet, not with Sunday possibly being his last chance to play this season. Thomas went for more treatment after practice and planned to return to the court later in the day, adding he was spending all afternoon at the training facility.
“I was wishing for today to be a good test for me to try to get out there and practice,” Thomas said. “I came out and did some running and tried to do some foot movement-type things to where I’m trying to push off, but my whole right side is locked up.”
New York coach Lenny Wilkens isn’t counting on having the 6-foot-10 forward. Already missing guard Allan Houston, sidelined by a knee injury, Wilkens is trying everything he can to keep the Knicks alive.
“We don’t have them. You know it, I know it. So, all right let’s move on,” Wilkens said. “The thing is to try and focus on the guys that you have and try and get them up to the level where they give us an opportunity to win.”
Thomas and Houston were New York’s second and third leading scorers this season, and the Knicks’ point totals have dropped the past two games after they scored only 83 in the series-opening loss.
The first two games in New Jersey were blowouts, but the Knicks kept things tight when they returned home. They believe they squandered a chance to get back into the series when they fell 81-78 on Thursday.
“You don’t want to get swept,” said Penny Hardaway, who started in Thomas’ place the past two games. “That’s where your pride comes in, not just as a basketball player but as a man. We don’t want to let them celebrate on our home court.”
Wilkens has relied hard on Stephon Marbury, but the flashy guard has struggled. He made only seven of 23 shots in Game 3, when he played all 48 minutes, and is averaging 18 points a game in the series, two below his season average.
“The better we play, the easier it’ll be for him,” Wilkens said of Marbury, who took a day off from speaking to reporters. “I tried to use timeouts to give him a rest. I didn’t think he was weak at the end of the game at all.”
It’s at the point now that if the Knicks don’t find a way to slow down the fast-breaking Nets, they will start their summer break as early as Monday. No NBA team has ever rallied from an 0-3 deficit to win a seven-game series, and it’s only happened twice in major sports history—both in the NHL.
“It’s difficult looking at that, but it’s not impossible,” Hardaway said. “We understand that no team has ever done that, but it has to happen somewhere. Why not here?”
The Nets, who reached the NBA Finals the past two seasons, have won 11 straight playoff games against Eastern Conference opponents—including four-game sweeps last year over Boston and Detroit.
“The big thing is that we’ve been in this position before,” Nets guard Jason Kidd said. “When you have the opportunity to close out a series, you want to do it as soon as possible.”
Wilkens, who has more wins and more losses than any other coach in NBA history, didn’t remember being down 0-3 as a player. He needed help recalling that he was in that situation five years ago when he coached Atlanta against the Knicks.
New York swept the injury-depleted Hawks en route to the Finals, and the Nets are looking to do the same on Sunday.
“We’re worried about the game in front of us,” said Nets forward Kenyon Martin, who has been trading barbs with Thomas all series long. “We’re just going to approach the game the same way. We don’t want to prolong anything more than it has to be.”