(November 16, 2013)PHOENIX— Who was that guy sitting in the first chair on the Nets bench Friday night? Or more accurately, who was that guy not sitting?
We saw a different Coach Jason Kidd than the one we’ve seen in the first five games he’s coached. That Kidd was stoic and stationary. Had he been at a poker table, you wouldn’t have a clue as to the cards he held.
This Kidd was animated. This Kidd was emotional.
Forget stoic and stationary, this Kidd was passionate and possessed, which was exactly what the Nets needed in a thrilling 100-98 overtime win over the Suns in Phoenix.
“I’m trying to find my way as a coach and this is process for me,’’ Kidd. “There’s a lot of different theories of what to do and I’m trying to find that. I felt sitting wasn’t doing my part or helping my guys so I was going to try something new.’’
The Nets (3-5) looked like a new model of themselves. Trailing by 14 in the first half, their star point guard Deron Williams in the locker room getting X-rays on his left ankle, the Nets showed a grit and passion they had yet to exhibit on the road.
When Joe Johnson split two Phoenix defenders and floated in a bucket a nano-second before the game clock expired, the Nets had won their first road game of the season and had turned in their most inspired performance of the season, a performance that reaffirmed their belief in themselves.
When asked what he had learned most about the Nets in the win, Kevin Garnett, who had 14 rebounds, didn’t hesitate.
“The heart we have and the fight that’s in us,’’ he said. “I think we have more to come.’’
How much more remains to be seen but it’s not a stretch to believe that as Kidd finds himself, the Nets will find themselves.
“He played in this league,’’ said Shaun Livingston, who came off the bench midway through the first quarter after Williams went down and played a marvelous game. “He understands the moment and where we’re at right now as a team.”
“We were looking to get the monkey off our back. [He was] just trying to show some passion and getting guys into the game.’’
Livingston, who finished with 18 points and six assists, did a masterful job of getting his teammates into the game. The greatest recipient of Livingston’s cerebral playmaking was center Brook Lopez, who was unstoppable in the second half, scoring 25 of his 27 points.
And yet the game was still tied late in overtime when Channing Frye attempted a 3. The rebound was long. Garnett tipped it to Johnson who took control of the ball and control of the game. He never appeared the slightest bit rushed or pressured.
“I knew I didn’t have to rush,’’ said Johnson, who must have a clock in his head. “KG [Kevin Garnett] tipped the ball to me and I saw there was a four seconds on the clock. I didn’t have to rush.’’
The Nets (3-5) rushed off the bench like they had just won Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Who could blame them after their early season woes?
The win was the first on the road this season for the Nets, snapping a four-game road losing streak and a three-game losing streak overall. And they did it against a Phoenix team (5-4) that had been undefeated at home.
Lopez and Garnett shrugged off mild ankle sprains. The X-rays on Williams’ ankle revealed no break. He left the locker room with no protective boot on his left ankle and no crutches, both positive signs.
The most positive sign, however, was the energy and passion with which the Nets played. Kidd was, by far, the most vocal and demonstrative he’s been all season. Earlier in the day he reminded the players of the trust they had built in training camp.
The Nets trusted each other in the second half when they turned a 14-point deficit into an 11-point lead. The third quarter had been one of the Nets’ fatal flaws this season but they held Phoenix scoreless for almost 10 minutes.
“It shows the type of team we can be,’’ said Paul Pierce. “We could see our potential. With us being down, to not use a guy going down who we desperately need as an excuse, guys really showed their true character. Now there’s no fooling anybody. This is who we are.’’
Kidd, the coach, is still learning who he is. He is, by nature, not a yeller or screamer. But anyone that watched him play knows he had a relentless competitiveness to go along with his brilliant basketball mind.
Until Friday night, it was Kidd’s basketball knowledge that the Nets spoke of the most when describing their rookie head coach. Now they have seen another side, a side that is emotional, passionate and driven.
“I think we’re all trying to find where we are,’’ said Garnett. “At this point we’re all trying to figure it out and Jason’s no different.’’
Friday night we saw a different Jason. The Nets will be better off if they see it more often.