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By Steve Lichtenstein
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No matter the pain he now administers to my Nets as a member of the rival Knicks, I just can’t bring myself to curse Jason Kidd.
Kidd, who changed a culture when he was traded to New Jersey back in 2001, will have his number five retired by Brooklyn one day.
It just won’t be any time soon, not after his theatrics at the Barclays Center on Tuesday night.
The former star point guard has reinvented himself in his middle age playing off the ball, which came in handy in allowing the Knicks to escape with a 100-97 victory.
Kidd hit 6-of-8 three pointers, including the game-winner while fouled by Nets forward Jerry Stackhouse with 24 seconds left, to account for his 18 points, much to the delight of the decidedly pro-Knick (about 65 percent, according to an informal press box poll) audience.
“We didn’t guard the three-point line,” said Nets coach Avery Johnson. “We wanted to stay matched up with their shooters but had to scramble a bit and got sucked in. We had too many breakdowns. Every time we thought we had control, they would make a three.”
Another one of those breakdowns came with four minutes left, when Nets forward Reggie Evans, who was ruthless in grabbing 18 rebounds in 33 minutes, was late running out on Kidd. Kidd buried the clutch three-pointer to tie the game at 91-91.
I can remember when Kidd’s long-range shooting was a liability. In his six-plus seasons as the face of the Nets’ franchise, Kidd’s three-point percentage exceeded 35 percent twice, topping out at 36 percent in 2004-05.
Of course, Kidd had a unique way of dominating games without prolific scoring. His leadership instantly turned around a woeful team, leading the Nets to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances, for which I will be eternally grateful.
As the legs started to slow, Kidd realized his days as the primary show-runner were numbered. The 39-year-old Kidd credits his workouts with Bob Thate starting in the middle of his New Jersey tenure for helping to extend his career. Kidd is shooting 50 percent from three-point land this season.
But Kidd’s legend comes from his unselfish nature on the court. He has a knack for doing whatever it takes for his teams to win.
If that meant ceding the point guard role to Raymond Felton, so be it. “It’s still just basketball,” said Kidd of playing a different position, adding that he “hopes to get taller,” so he can bang with the bigger bodies like the Nets’ Joe Johnson.
When he was a Net, Kidd turned nice players such as Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson into max-contract earners. He made his teammates comfortable with his pinpoint deliveries.
That has not changed despite the decrease in touches. Kidd had six assists last night without a turnover. “I’ve been working with Carmelo (Anthony, who was outstanding with a 45-point performance) so that he knows that he doesn’t have to fight to get the ball” said Kidd.
Kidd said it took some time to work that out with Dallas star forward Dirk Nowitzki following Kidd’s exile from New Jersey, and it culminated in that once elusive ring he won in 2011.
Still, Kidd insists he is far from done. He said all the appropriate plaudits regarding the Nets’ rebirth in Brooklyn, and intends to haunt their new castle for as long as he can take the toll of an NBA season.
Kidd was absent due to back spasms from the first intra-city meeting, a 96-89 Nets’ overtime victory. According to Kidd, this game’s backdrop had nothing to do with his excessive jubilation following his big shot, which contributed to his bricking the ensuing free throw attempt (“That was the worst shot ever,” Kidd said.). “I’m a competitor,” explained Kidd. “I just like to win.”
The Nets had two chances to tie in the closing seconds but Gerald Wallace and Deron Williams both failed on their three-point attempts.
For Williams, this loss had to be especially galling. The crowd made this more like a Knicks home game. (So did the refs, who among their questionable decisions took away a key Andray Blatche tip-in right after Kidd tied the game with a VERY belated interference call. To be fair, coach Johnson did praise the officiating after the game. Or maybe he just didn’t want to get fined.)
Plus Williams, who is playing through a variety of injuries, once again struggled with his stroke, finishing 6-for-16 from the floor, clanging 5 of his last 6 shots. Williams claimed he “hasn’t had a good game all season.”
Williams did accumulate 10 assists with only one turnover, but that was no comfort from the Nets’ fifth straight defeat, all without injured starting center Brook Lopez, who will also sit out tonight’s contest in Toronto with that “mild” sprained foot.
Usually a heartbreaking Nets loss like this has me frothing at the mouth, with excessive complaints about my team’s coaching strategy or certain players’ shortcomings. Oh, they still exist, but I’m choosing to refrain for one day.
After all, I can’t get mad at a Kidd’s game.
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Nets fans — are you with Steve on this? Be heard in the comments…