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NBA FINALS

Martin Takes More Shots

NBA Finals: New Jersey's volatile forward critical of his teammates for their lackluster play in L.A.'s series sweep.

June 13, 2002|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Loose Kenyon, indeed.

Near the end of an unusually taut night at the NBA Finals, it was difficult to determine whether it was power forward Kenyon Martin's volcanic temper or his many electric moves that was more impressive Wednesday in Game 4.

Or frightening.

Martin would score 35 points, a playoff career high, and take 11 rebounds in the New Jersey Nets' 113-107 loss, outstanding work against the three-time NBA champion Lakers.

But he also drew an unnecessary technical foul in the first quarter, wheeled as if to take a swing at Laker center Shaquille O'Neal after a scramble for a loose ball in the fourth quarter and then called out his teammates for their lackluster play after they were swept from the Finals.

"It's just a game to some people," said Martin, who averaged 21.8 points in his first Finals. "I live and die for this game. Some people just approach it as, 'Oh, well.' That's their attitude. Some guys on this team, they play hard. They play with all their heart. I feel I'm one of them. I tried to talk about it all season, tried to motivate people. I did that to the point where I was tired of talking.

"Look at the stat sheet and it's difficult to deal with. It's the most important game of our lives and some people didn't bring it."

Martin didn't name names. But it didn't take a wizard to guess that he was taking a shot at small forward Keith Van Horn, who completed an indifferent series by scoring seven points in 31 minutes, and center Todd MacCulloch, who had eight points in 20 minutes and rarely laid a finger on O'Neal.

Jason Kidd, who had 13 points, 12 assists and five rebounds in 43 minutes, and presumably was not among those Martin targeted for his disgust, winced when Martin's comments were relayed to him during the postgame press conference.

"I'm not going to get into that," Kidd said. "K-Mart, he can handle all the controversy. I do agree to an extent that it was do or die since Game 1. So, if you don't show any kind of heart or any emotion at this point, then maybe you shouldn't be playing. But if he's named names, I'm going to let him stand alone. I'm going to back him up, but I'm not the [spokesman] on that one. I'm not going to touch that."

Martin just completed his second NBA season after four remarkable years at Cincinnati. Better days are no doubt ahead for him. He has the gift of a lightning-quick first step toward the basket. He has a sound jump shot from 20 feet. He can be ferocious on the backboards when he wants to be.

"I think the last two games, he's showed the type of player he can be," New Jersey Coach Byron Scott said, referring to Martin's 26-point performance in Game 3 and his play in Game 4. "Hopefully, he continues to grow, continues to get better.... I said the Lakers had two superstars and we had one and a half. I think Kenyon is still developing. He has the potential to be an all-star, there's no doubt about that."

Well, perhaps if he can control his anger he'll have the potential to be an all-star. Twice this past season he was suspended for rough play, sitting out a total of seven games.

Perhaps Wednesday wasn't the right time to criticize his teammates.

Then again, maybe it was.

Asked about not backing down against O'Neal, Martin began to rant about his teammates' lack of character.

"Some guys don't have it in them," he said. "That's the hardest thing to deal with. Guys come to play every day, but some guys, you don't know when they're going to show up. I can deal with losing, but guys who don't bring it every day, that's something I can't deal with."

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