By Steve Lichtenstein
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Those physically unable to perform included Spurs starters Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard and key reserves Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw. In addition, star forward Tim Duncan logged 40 minutes in the prior night’s double-overtime win at Washington and took a rest day.
But coach Gregg Popovich still shows up to coach his Spurs every night. He has his players so well-trained in the fundamentals of the game, as well as how those skills get integrated into his system. I could be convinced that he could take five guys from our local over-40 league and make them competitive.
Which was why the Spurs were able to hang close with Brooklyn for three-and-a-half quarters before running out of gas.
No, the Nets won’t find an asterisk next to this win in the standings, nor will they give it back. Sure it was a gift, but the Nets needed this one badly.
And not only because a loss would have been embarrassing. The Nets had beaten the Spurs just once in their previous 21 regular-season meetings, with the 113-92 blowout in San Antonio on New Year’s Eve the figurative and literal low point of this Nets season. After a horrific 10-21 start, the Nets needed to take advantage of this opportunity to get out of town within three games of .500 before flying off to Detroit for their own second leg of a back-to-back.
So what I thought was worth noting were those who did not touch the court for coach Jason Kidd’s Nets.
With 13 available bodies — center Brook Lopez, who showed up on Thursday for a home game for the first time since breaking a bone in his foot in December, is out for the season — Kidd was going to have to make some tough choices in configuring his rotation.
Remember: Kidd was a player only 10 days before getting hired as a first-time coach by general manager Billy King last summer. Kidd has prior personal relationships with several Nets players, which can make it more difficult to deal with touchy subjects like playing time.
One such player is guard Jason Terry, who helped Kidd win his sole NBA championship ring while playing in the same backcourt in Dallas in 2011.
Unfortunately, Terry isn’t that player anymore. He was damaged goods coming off knee surgery when the Nets acquired him as an add-on in the deal with Boston that also brought over future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Though he sat out 15 games earlier in the season with knee pains, Terry was not among those listed as unavailable for duty last night.
That meant it was Kidd’s decision next to Terry’s DNP in the box score. Not that Kidd didn’t have his reasons.
At age 36, Terry’s lack of mobility has turned him into a defensive liability. He’s not a strong ball handler or passer. Even his shooting, which has always been his raison d’etre, has taken a nosedive, with his field-goal percentage at a career-low 37 percent.
For the past month, Terry had been part of a five-man bench brigade that was the envy of the league. However, it was clear from both the naked eye as well as many statistical metrics that Terry was a weak link.
Terry, like hustling-but-offensively inept forward Reggie Evans, no longer warranted time in the Nets’ rotation.
Instead, on Thursday night Kidd went with Alan Anderson — who proceeded to put up 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting from the floor — for that role. Anderson scored 17 of the Nets’ 21 points (including 11 in a row) during a crucial seven-minute run in the second half.
I’m not sure Kidd would have had the gumption to make that same decision a couple of months ago, when it seemed like he was feeling his way around the team and divvied up minutes like he was coaching a rec team.
At least this shows growth on Kidd’s part, the same as when he removed star point guard and vacation buddy Deron Williams after five lackluster minutes to start the game on Thursday night. D-Will returned to knock down seven of his last 10 field-goal attempts while surviving a second-quarter scare when he banged his knee trying to get around a screen.
Or how Kidd has continued to rely on Garnett as his defensive fulcrum, despite Garnett again mentioning to the postgame media crowd, “I hate playing the five.” With some more colorful language removed from that quote.
As the calendar turned to 2014, Kidd recognized that having Garnett at center alleviated a ton of his team’s woes on the defensive side. Garnett solidified the Nets’ pick-and-roll assignments, he contests shots at the rim and rebounds a higher percentage of missed shots than anyone in the NBA.
Kidd deserves credit for getting Garnett to buy into that premise, even if it’s begrudgingly.
The Garnett conundrum comes with a price, however, as Kidd has been restricting the 37-year-old’s minutes and giving him selected days off. Kidd already announced that Friday night’s game will be Garnett’s sixth such day this season.
With the Pistons’ imposing front line ready to devour the KG-less Nets on the boards, you can see why it was so important that the Nets didn’t suffer a letdown on Thursday night. Kidd had to play the best guys to get the job done, regardless of emotional ties.
Nets fans should be happy to see that he did just that.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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