LOS ANGELES, June 5 -- Less than halfway through the first quarter of Game 1, and already the Staples Center crowd was declaring the NBA Finals a foregone conclusion.
"Three-peat! Three-peat!" went the chant.
The Nets, clearly nervous and out of sync, had dug themselves an 11-point hole with poor shooting and lax defense, and the massacre was on. A behind-the-back pass in the lane from Kobe Bryant to Shaquille O'Neal. A lucky fast-break layup by Rick Fox off a pass that was tipped not once, but twice. Kobe spinning off his defender for an easy layup. Derek Fisher for three.
Jason Kidd's triple-double will be a confidence-booster going into Game 2.|
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
By the end of the first, the deficit was 15, and only three Nets -- Kenyon Martin, Kerry Kittles and Jason Kidd -- had scored at all. At that point, New Jersey was so thoroughly overmatched and the game's outlook so grim that, upon reflection, conventional aphorisms simply wouldn't suffice.
Said Kidd after the game, "We had every reason to fold up our tents and head back to the marina."
Whatever his metaphor, the meaning was clear: Twelve minutes in, the NBA Finals were looking like a formality for L.A.
Nets coach Byron Scott, though, was of a different opinion: Basically, get over it and play ball.
"This is the biggest stage in basketball," he said, "so you're going to have some jitters, and you're going to go out there and do some things that you don't normally do. I wasn't nervous at all, I just wanted our guys to calm down and relax and get back to playing basketball."
And get back to playing basketball they did. The Lakers' lead swelled to as large as 42-19 in the second quarter, but by halftime, the Nets had cut it to 12 and their more familiar balanced-scoring, fast-paced attack was beginning to emerge.
"I don't think we really got up to our pace until later in the second quarter," said Scott. "Like I said, we really wanted to try and push the tempo, get it up and down the floor -- we didn't do a good job of that in the early stages of the game, but I thought we got better."
As usual, Kidd was the key. After averaging a triple-double in the conference finals against Boston, the Nets' All-Star guard opened the NBA Finals with another, ultimately finishing with 23 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. New Jersey made its most serious move in the fourth quarter, pulling to within three points on a Keith Van Horn dunk with less than five minutes to play, but the team would get no closer. Shaq took over with his ever-reliable jump hooks deep in the lane and automatic free throw shooting, but more importantly, the Nets' open shots weren't falling. Kidd needed help from his supporting cast, and in the end, Martin, Kittles and Van Horn combined to shoot just 15-of-43 from the field.
"The biggest thing is that we have to make shots," said Kidd. "We had opportunities. We just didn't knock them down when we had to."
Indeed, the team shot poorly both from the field (.394) and from the free-throw line (.577) and still managed to make it interesting in the fourth. The game itself may have been a loss, but by playing their way back, the Nets -- for whatever its worth -- gave themselves a nice confidence boost going into Game 2 on Friday.
"It gives us confidence in the sense that we didn't give up," said Kidd. "We don't have to play a perfect game, but we have to come out with the effort that we had for three quarters and throw that first part out the window."