Posted May 22 2011 1:21AM
OKLAHOMA CITY -- They call this Saturday School in education circles.
Mavericks point guard Jason Kidd has been teaching it to the legions of point guards following in his Hall of Fame footsteps for years.
What he and the Mavericks did to the young Oklahoma City Thunder here Saturday night, however, is give instruction in the art of the measured comeback. The Mavericks owned Game 3 of these Western Conference finals, winning 93-87 before a sellout Oklahoma City Arena crowd of 18,203 and snatching a 2-1 lead while also making up for that Game 2 loss on their home floor Thursday night.
What made this one so startling is the ease with which the Mavericks were able to seize control on the Thunder's home floor after losing for the first time on their own floor. They led by as many as 23 points early and delivered a defensive display Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle called "championship level."
The fearless Thunder, collectively a decade younger than their teachers on this day, were taken to the woodshed by the Mavericks and their unsung leader, the 38-year-old Kidd, who did everything but diagram plays on the whiteboard in the Thunder timeout huddles.
Faced with the fury of 22-year-old Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, a second-team All-NBA pick still smarting from a fourth quarter benching in Game 2, Kidd did what any master would do. He taught a lesson without anything more than the occasional, and minimal, show of emotion.
"Jason Kidd ran their team," said Thunder center Kendrick Perkins. "Every time they got down or something, he made a big play or a great pass."
Not only did he direct for the Mavericks on offense, he put on a defensive clinic as well, guarding both Westbrook and Thunder star Kevin Durant at times during the Mavericks' runaway portions of the game.
What he lacks in glitz and highlight reel plays, things he did on the regular at the height of his physical powers, when Westbrook was probably in grade school and maybe junior high, he makes up for in veteran moxie.
"He does so many things that can not be quantified on the stats sheet," Carlisle said. "Just from having a calming influence when a team is making a run, a knack for hitting big shots and finding the window to deliver the ball at the right time to the right guy. And defensively, he did a great job the whole game of communicating to everybody what was going on, because our coverages were good. But we did change things a lot on the fly, and he's a guy that's directing traffic out there for us."
Things tightened up late, of course. They almost always do. The Thunder were within six late. But when it was time to execute in the game's final three minutes, Westbrook was in attack mode but terribly inefficient while Kidd made sure the Mavericks calmly ran their pick and roll sets, got the ball in Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry's hands and finished what they started.
The ghosts from that Game 4 in Portland might have spooked a younger point guard and a team without the collective experience the Mavericks bring to the party.
Not Kidd, or the Mavericks, at least not this time.
"We're an old team, so if we didn't have any experiences [to draw on] right now then we'd be in trouble," Kidd said. "It's about just understanding the situation, we're not thinking ahead. We're thinking about the moment right now. This is a game about runs, 6-0 runs, 10-0 runs, and we just tried to minimize that. They made a run at us but nobody panicked. We got the ball to the guys that needed the ball and they made plays."
Westbrook finished with 30 points but was just 8-for-20 from the floor, had three more turnovers (7) than he did assists and was unable to turn isolation plays into the sort of comeback from a 23-point hole than Brandon Roy did when he led the Trail Blazers back from an identical deficit in a Game 4 win over the Mavericks in a first round series.
The box score won't be nearly as kind to Kidd in certain categories; he was just 4-for-10 from the floor and finished with 13 points. But he had eight assists, six rebounds four steals and just two turnovers in 37 age-defying and ultra-efficient minutes in what amounts to the Mavericks' biggest game of the season, to date.
And again, when it was winning time, things flowed through him and then on to Nowitzki and Terry, who knocked down the shots to seal the deal.
"Jason, as you all know from the last 17 or 18 years he's been in this league, gives you everything he has," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks, a former teammate of Kidd's at the tail end of his career and when Kidd was in Westbrook's shoes. "He's what you want out of a professional athlete, did everything on the floor for his team. Nothing he does surprises me, other than playing the way he's playing at his age. I mean, I couldn't do it when I was 30, play good basketball. He's doing it late in his 30s. Give him a lot of credit. He keeps his body and mind in ... he's a well conditioned athlete and plays hard every night. He battles and competes against whoever he has in front of him and that's what you want. He's a terrific player."
And perhaps an even better teacher.
Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and the author of NBA.com's Hang Time blog. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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