When the Dallas Mavericks selected Jason Kidd second overall in 1994, John Wall was 3, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose were both 5, Rajon Rondo was 8, Chris Paul was 9 and Deron Williams was 10. But nearly 17 years later, after several other dynamic point guards have already come and gone — Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis — Kidd remains the best pure point guard still playing this postseason.
It’s not about speed and athleticism, which Kidd lost years ago and which Rose and Westbrook — who claimed first- and second-team All-NBA honors, respectively, this season — have in abundance. It’s not about spectacular plays, although Kidd can still whip out a ridiculous bounce pass that splits two defenders from time to time.
And it’s not about stats. It’s about impact.
At age 38, Kidd continues to find a way to influence the outcome of games, as he did on Monday, when he was responsible for the two most critical plays that helped the Mavericks stun the Oklahoma City Thunder, 112-105 in overtime of Game 4. After Dirk Nowitzki continued to be the most unstoppable offensive machine this postseason — scoring 12 of his game-high 40 points in final 4 ½ minutes of regulation to lead Dallas to an unthinkable 15-point comeback — Kidd provided the finishing touches in the extra frame to put his team ahead, 3-1, in the best of seven series.
Kidd actually outscored the Thunder, 5-4, in overtime and finished with 17 points, seven assists, five rebounds and four steals. “Jason Kidd, you know, everybody asks questions about the age and all that other stuff,” Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle said, “but the thing I’d say to anybody is, ‘Never underestimate greatness.’”
With the game tied at 105 with 1:55 remaining, Kevin Durant – who is about six inches taller than Kidd – elevated for a jumper and Kidd stripped him. Then, Nowitzki found Kidd in the corner, where he pump faked to get Westbrook off of his feet, watched him fly by and leaned in to hit the decisive three-pointer.
“I knew the ball was going to end up with me,” Kidd said. “Dirk has a lot of trust in me. I thought they were going to double, and it was my job to be able to knock down that shot.”
The play was symbolic of how Kidd gets by on his guile, while Westbrook is still trying to figure out how to channel that boundless energy to get positive results more often than not. Did Kidd travel on the play? Probably. Does it matter? Not really, because he also walked away with the victory.
Westbrook was expected to have an advantage over Kidd with his speed and agility, but Kidd has recorded 16 steals, helped force Westbrook into 21 turnovers and 34.7 percent shooting, and even watched his all-star counterpart get benched in favor or Eric Maynor in the fourth quarter of Game 2.
Kidd gets his teammates in the right spots, helps them play to their strengths — whether it’s hitting Tyson Chandler for a lob dunk, catching Jason Terry cutting to the corner, or getting the ball to Nowitzki on the left elbow and getting out of the way. And while he still is susceptible to having Westbrook blow by him for a highlight dunk, Kidd refuses to let him have the upper hand.
“Everybody is going to be quicker than I am and younger, so that’s a given,” Kidd, who is averaging 11.5 points and 8.5 assists this series, said this week. I believe that I still have that athletic ability. I might have lied to myself that I can still do the things that I could do at 25 or 26, but sometimes I’m brought back down to understand that I’m not as fast as I once was.
“I’m just trying to make it tough on these guys,” Kidd said. “These guys all have the advantage, if it’s not speed or height, they all can put the ball up, they all it score. Just trying to make it tough and contest. Again, I’ve been in the league long enough, I’ve been scored on, so it’s not like if they score it’s something new.”
John Stockton, whom Kidd has referred to as “the best,” led Utah to the NBA Finals at age 36. But now the ancient yet still effective Kidd, in his second act with Dallas, is now one victory from returning eight years after his last trip with the New Jersey Nets. “I’m proud of Jason Kidd,” Nowitzki said. “I mean, the way he battles on defense, the floor game that he leads for us every night, the stills steals he gets, and then the huge three in the corner there in overtime to put us over the top. I tip my hat to him every night.”