With big men Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson out with injuries, the Bulls turned to veteran Kurt Thomas on Tuesday. It was Thomas’ first start of the season, but the NBA’s second-oldest player (Shaquille O’Neal is seven months older) didn’t show any signs of rust, starting hot and finishing with 12 points, eight rebounds and five blocks in the Bulls’ 121-76 blowout of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Thomas is in his 17th season in the league. There was a stark contrast right across the court, as 76ers starting guard Jrue Holiday is just 20 years old.
Thomas used that experience to his advantage throughout the game, frustrating Sixers center Elton Brand by knocking the ball free twice in the first half when Brand brought the ball low on his way to the basket. Brand never got in sync, finishing with just six points and nine rebounds.
“[Thomas] has been doing it for 100 years,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.
“He’s a smart player. He plays great body-position defense, is a great communicator. And offensively he sets great screens. He has the ability to step back and shoot, so it helps spread the floor.”
The Sixers entered the game ranked second in the league in opponents’ field-goal percentage (43.3 percent), which is statistical proof that their recent surge (winning eight of the last 10 games) was because of defense.
Nothing was stopping the Bulls on Tuesday, though, as they shot a season-high 64.5 percent from the field (49-for-76) and had a season-high 32 assists. Six Bulls scored in double figures, and they outscored the Sixers 28-9 in fast break points.
“There wasn’t much not to like,” Thibodeau said. ‘‘It was one of those nights for them. They’d been playing great.”
The Bulls led 61-43 at the half and then dominated the third quarter, outscoring the Sixers 31-11.
“We came out and did what we were supposed to do,” Derrick Rose said. “It’s fun. We are just trying to keep this rolling. It’s all because of the defense. We contested every shot and then were able to get out and run.”
Rose finished with 22 points and 12 assists. Luol Deng also scored 22, and Carlos Boozer contributed 16 points and 11 rebounds.
“I thought Kurt did a great job,” Thibodeau said. “Carlos was really active early. Offensively, Luol was terrific and got us going early.”
Brian Scalabrine’s basket with 3:59 to play gave the Bulls a 51-point lead. They hadn’t enjoyed a 40-point lead since Jan. 13, 2007, against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Andre Iguodala led the 76ers (11-17) with 17 points, and Thaddeus Young added 12 points and seven rebounds. St. Joseph grad Evan Turner shot 2-for-11 in his return to Chicago, finishing with six points and three assists.
Thibodeau was able to rest the starters for the entire fourth quarter, which might factor into the game tonight at Washington.
“Anytime you can get rest, it’s good,” Thibodeau said. “We’re facing another tough challenge [in Washington].”