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Kidd's Numbers Don't Lie as Nets Finish Off Celtics

Eastern Conference: His third triple-double of series lifts New Jersey past Boston, 96-88, and into NBA Finals.

June 01, 2002|DIANE PUCIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOSTON — This was about Jason Kidd.

The numbers, first. The 15 points, the 13 assists, the 13 rebounds, the triple-double, his third of the series.

It was about his two-handed, over-the-shoulder, on-the-run, blind pass to Lucious Harris that ended in a layup. And right after, his thread-the-needle, through-three-Celtics, pinpoint pass to Aaron Williams that ended in a layup plus a foul shot for Williams. These came back-to-back in the fourth quarter, when the game mattered most, when every palm was sweaty and every heart was pounding.

And it was about his defense, the way Kidd attached himself to Antoine Walker. Walker didn't score in the fourth quarter. Walker could hardly get his hands on the ball unless he was off-balance and looking the wrong way.

Most of all it was about his face. No matter what the Boston crowd shouted at him, "wife beater" being the most friendly, no matter what was thrown from the crowd--full cups of beer, paper airplanes, coins--no matter whether his team was losing by 10 or on a full gallop into the lead, Kidd never showed an ounce of emotion.

He just played.

He played the New Jersey Nets into the NBA Finals for the first time in team history. He played the Nets from a 10-point halftime deficit to an emphatic 96-88 win over the Boston Celtics at the FleetCenter Friday night. He played the Nets to a 4-2 conquering of the Eastern Conference finals.

He caused Celtic Coach Jim O'Brien to say, "Jason Kidd is off the charts as a player. He is as good a point guard as I've ever seen. His ability to get triple-doubles on a regular basis is something to behold."

And he caused O'Brien to say something even more stunning:

"I think the Nets will win the finals. Why? Because they have as good a point guard as I've ever seen, a tremendous bench, great starters. They're big. They're a difficult team to prepare for. I think when you have an MVP candidate like Jason Kidd, where he controls the backboard, controls the basketball, he's a great defensive player, I think the West is in for a rude awakening."

Kidd became the first player in 35 years to have three triple-doubles in one series. He joined the company of Oscar Robertson (1963) and Wilt Chamberlain (1967).

"I'm a little light-headed," Kidd said. "It's just unbelievable."

Kidd was on the foul line, blowing a soft air kiss as he always does before shooting a free throw, a symbol of solidarity with his wife, Joumana, when the game had to be stopped because a fan threw a full cup of beer onto the court. There were 33.9 seconds left and the Celtics were finished. Kidd never moved from the foul line. He just waited for the cleanup and then made two free throws, the final points of the game.

Since an incident 18 months ago when Joumana called police and said Jason hit her, Joumana and the couple's 3-year-old son, T.J., have been a public part of Kidd's basketball life. They missed their first playoff game Friday after they had been sworn at and taunted.

But there were other things to notice besides Kidd, his performance and his family.

Such as the way Boston stars Walker (16 points on seven-for-20 shooting) and Paul Pierce (14 points on five-for-16 shooting) backed away from the fourth quarter. Pierce made one three-pointer, with 11:10 left. That was the only basket either of Boston's go-to guys made.

Such as the way the Nets weren't bothered at all by the full-throated roar of the crowd as the Celtics closed out the first quarter with a 25-7 run for a 28-21 lead, and ran off an 11-2 finish of the second quarter to lead, 54-44.

Such as the way, with 49.2 seconds left and the shot clock nearing zero, Kerry Kittles, surrounded under the basket, whipped the ball to Keith Van Horn, who stood flat-footed and calm as he made a three-pointer to double the Nets' lead from 91-88 to 94-88.

And such as the way the celebration consisted of Kenyon Martin taking off his shirt. That was it. Otherwise the Nets walked quietly off the court. As if they expected this. And more.

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