On Saturday night, Thomas didn’t do his signature move. Standing at the San Antonio Spurs scorer’s table around the midway point of the first quarter, he simply tied his shorts, caressed powder into the palm of his hands and stepped on the court to make his Wizards debut.
In his first game since April 7, Thomas, who missed all of preseason and the first two games while recovering from a left thumb injury, played nearly 20 minutes of the Wizards’ 124-122 loss to the Spurs. Thomas recovered from a slow shooting start to hit 6 of 14 attempts for 16 points. He also finished with five assists and three rebounds.
“I haven’t played in a real game in a while, so it was just getting a feel for the game,” Thomas said. “The first half was tough for me. I couldn’t even like feel the ball. It was just different for me, so I was just happy to be out there and be able to compete for my teammates. My teammates were happy for me, so that was great, and I’m just glad to be back.”
The ball might have felt weightless in his hands, but old habits never quite die. Seconds after Thomas got his first touch, a shot went up. It missed, as did his next three.
Still, Thomas, who has a career average of 13.8 field goal attempts per game, didn’t hesitate. He figures that if he is to return to his normal self this season with the Wizards, he can’t let up.
“I mean, that’s just who I am. I’ve got to play the right way. Play to my strength, which is scoring the basketball and making plays,” Thomas said. “My job is to be aggressive and to make plays and score. That’s what I’m going to do no matter what.”
Bradley Beal is one of the three players remaining on the Wizards’ roster from the 2017 Eastern Conference semifinals against Boston. That playoff series also was the last time Thomas, who put up 28.9 points per game that season, was a dynamic scorer. Since then, Thomas has been stalled by a hip injury, which required arthroscopic surgery in 2018. The procedure limited Thomas over the past two seasons as he bounced around the league, but on Saturday night, Beal saw visions of his old foe.
“I.T. did an excellent job his first game back,” Beal said of his new teammate. “He gave us a lot of energy, a lot of offense, running the team. He came in, was a huge spark for us.”
One I.T. time play happened at the 9:11 mark of the second quarter when Thomas hit a running, one-legged jumper. The unorthodox, long-distance shot swished, but Thomas’s shoe was so close to the line that the field goal was initially ruled as two points. Eventually, after a review, the scorer rewarded Thomas with his second three-pointer of the half.
“Not too many people cannot play a game in six weeks, play in San Antonio and have the game he had,” Coach Scott Brooks said of Thomas, a two-time all-star. “Only a few people in the league can do that. He plays with toughness, and obviously there was rust tonight, and he is unsure of himself on the offensive end with the rhythm of our plays and with the strengths and weaknesses of the players out there. It will all come along, and it’s a long process.”
After that shot, Thomas concluded his first rotation and returned to the sideline, where he adjusted a heating pad on the area of his right hip. Later, during his second-half stint, Thomas’s efficiency improved as he made 4 of 8 attempts.
Though Thomas didn’t check his wrist Saturday night, he believes it soon will be his time again.
“I felt good. I mean, know I’m going to be rusty. I know it’s going to take some time to get back to where I was before injury, but I’m going to take it day by day,” Thomas said. “There’s going to be some bad days. There’s going to be some good days. But I’m going to be even keel throughout the process knowing that if I keep taking steps forward, I’m going to get closer to where I was and hopefully surpass that.”