Billy Thomas Keys Game One Finals Victory
Colorado's Billy Thomas has played in a lot of basketball games as a veteran of the NBA, NBA D-League, and overseas leagues, but tonight's NBA D-League Finals Game One victory over Utah might have been one of his best.
The veteran guard scored 27 points and added seven rebounds to lead his 14ers to a 136-131 overtime win over Utah to take a 1-0 lead and put Colorado one win away from a championship. Despite his individual heroics, Thomas was quick to credit his teammates for the 14ers' success this season.
"We just understand we are a really deep team," said Thomas after the game. "We have some veterans and some talented young guys too. We didn't think we played our best ball up here last week, and we knew that tonight we had to come out here and stay focused. When we are focused we are a pretty good team."
The 14ers jumped out to a 25-point lead and dominated the first half, but a Flash team playing their last home game of the season wasn't going to go quietly. Utah battled back and even took the lead while the game went into overtime. As the leader of a group with a core of veteran, NBA-experienced players, Thomas knew that the 14ers could still come out on top.
"Understand, Utah is a very good team, and they are a very good team here at home," said Thomas. "They are going to come out and make runs. That's what the game is about, we expected it. That's where our veteran leadership comes in, guy like me, Josh (Davis), and Eddie (Gill)."
After escaping Orem with a victory, the 14ers will return to Colorado where they need to win one more game on a court where they have compiled a 22-4 record this season. Despite the home-court advantage, Thomas knows that the Flash are still an opponent to be reckoned with, as demonstrated by their comeback in Game One.
"Utah is a great team, they move the ball well, they have great motion, and they play hard," said Thomas. "We need to do a better job on some key areas, like hitting open shots and cutting down turnovers. Their offense is pretty hard to guard so we also have to do better defensively."
While many of Thomas' teammates and opponents are new to pro basketball, the guard from Kansas is no stranger to the NBA D-League. He played in the league's first season in 2001-02 and feels that the league's growth has made the D-League experience more rewarding as the seasons have gone by.
"No question, the league has grown to eight teams when I first played to sixteen, seventeen now,", said Thomas about the changes he's seen in his D-League career. "The league has grown and the caliber of player of guys who decide to stay here and pursue their NBA dream makes it very competitive and every game worth seeing. The playoff format has guys who didn't get to the NBA that year trying to show that they are worthy of a call-up. There's still basketball left to be played so there are still NBA guys watching."
Thomas has appeared in 53 NBA games over four seasons, and received a GATORADE Call-Up to the Cavaliers this year. With another strong season in the D-League under his belt, he keeps going with the hopes of another shot from an NBA team still alive.
"That's why I play," said Thomas. "I feel like that I've been blessed to be good enough to play in the NBA. I play here with that in mind, that I can stay healthy and be able to finish my career in the NBA."
Now Thomas is one win away from accomplishing a rarity, become one of the few players to win multiple championships in the NBA D-League. Thomas was a part of the Greenville Groove, the champions of the first NBA D-League season in 2001-02, and he would love to add another to his trophy case.
"I've been trying to tell my teammates to help me get it done," said Thomas with a laugh. "I don't know how many have ever won two in the D-League, but it would be great to be one of them."
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