By Evan Silverman
Twenty-six years after Julius Erving and the New York Nets won the 1976 ABA Championship, Jason Kidd and the New Jersey Nets officially returned to glory when they defeated the Boston Celtics on Friday night to advance to the 2002 NBA Finals. So what did the Swamp Dragons hope to accomplish this season when they opened training camp after a 26-56 campaign in 2000-01?
New Jersey Nets captain Jason Kidd led his team beyond even his own wildest expectations this season.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
“Our goal is to make it to the playoffs,” said Kidd on Media Day in mid-October. “I know Coach Scott and all them won't say it publicly, but I'll say it from day one. Our goal is to make it to the playoffs. And that's not to shortchange us and it shouldn't be that it's not realistic because that is realistic for us.”
Moments after the Nets vanquished his team, Boston Celtics head coach Jim O’Brien emphatically predicted in the postgame press conference that the Nets would win the NBA Finals. “I expect them to bring the championship back East,” said O’Brien. “I think they’re that good of a basketball team.” Another reporter asked him to confirm his statement and O’Brien obliged. “I think they’ll win the Finals…I think the West is in for a rude awakening.”
KEEP ‘EM GUESSING
So what was the key to New Jersey’s victory in Game 6? A constantly changing, stifling defense that morphed from a man-to-man to a 2-3 matchup zone to a box-in-one. “We mix it up to give them a different look,” said Nets head coach Byron Scott. “I’ll stay in it (a zone) as long as they’re not scoring.” In the fourth quarter, New Jersey held Boston’s Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce to a combined three points on 1-for-7 shooting from the field. “They did a great job defensively,” said Pierce, who during the regular season ranked second in the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring at 7.2 ppg. “It was tough actually for me to just touch the ball.”
NOTHING LIKE THE GOOD OLD SNEAKER TRICK
Rarely in the history of professional sports has a team benefited as much from one of its players having a shoe fall off as the Nets did Friday night when Kenyon Martin lost his sneaker in the fourth quarter. Leading 87-84 with 2:10 remaining, New Jersey called timeout so K-Mart could put his sneaker back on and the time on the sideline paid huge dividends. The Nets executed a great set play out of the timeout when K-Mart rolled back door on a fronting Walker. Kidd read his teammate’s move and delivered a beautiful pass to Martin, who finished the play with an authoritative dunk to give the Nets an 89-84 lead at the 2:00 mark.
OFF THE CHARTS
As if anyone needed further confirmation of Kidd’s greatness, the Nets superstar posted 15 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists in Game 6 for his third triple-double of the conference finals. Kidd averaged 17.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and 10.2 assists per game during the series to join Wilt Chamberlain and Magic Johnson as the only players in NBA history to average a triple-double in a best-of-seven conference or division finals. “Jason Kidd is off the charts,” said O’Brien. “He is as good a point guard as I’ve ever seen.”