NEW YORK – All season long, there were questions about Jason Kidd.
Was he playing too many minutes?
Would he be worn out by the time the playoffs rolled around?
In Game 1 of Boston-New York on Saturday, with defense dictating the fourth quarter, Kidd answered the bell tangibly, something he has specialized in throughout the latter portion of his illustrious 19-year NBA career.
“I love watching him,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after his club was shut down in the second half of an 85-78 loss. “I didn’t like watching him today. He just knows how to play.
“He says it all the time, ‘I’m 40 years old and half the league is quicker and faster.’ And no, I said, ‘Ninety percent of the league is quicker and faster than you.’ He beats everyone with his brain. He beats everyone into the ground with his brain.”
After a first half in which they allowed the Celtics to shoot 20-of-38 with 15 assists, while Jeff Green dropped 20 points, the Knicks clamped down.
The Celtics scored 17 points in the third quarter, then just eight in the fourth period.
The Celtics have played 592 postseason games. In the first 591, they always managed to score at least 25 points in every second half.
In the fourth quarter, Boston’s turnovers matched its point total.
“We made some adjustments,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson noted. “In the first half, our backside defense wasn’t solid. We were pretty good on the strong side of the ball but the backside was pretty weak, so we adjusted. I thought our pick-and-roll coverage was very good in the second half. It was just a total team effort in terms of how we covered for one another when we had breakdowns defensively.”
By repeatedly working hard to be in the right spot on the floor and getting “lucky,” Kidd helped New York disrupt Boston’s offense into a historically bad 7-of-27 shooting performance in the second half.
Even though they won, the Knicks are aware that they didn’t play their best basketball at both ends of the floor.
“I think us as a whole, we’ve just gotta look at our offense,” said Kidd, who still manages to make defensive rotations look seamless. “We just didn’t move the ball as well and there’s always adjustments to be made, but we played probably our best defense of the year during that second half.”
New York is the second seed in the Eastern Conference for a reason, but its defense has been erratic at times this season. At the beginning of the season, the Knicks appeared to be locked in. Then they regressed during the middle portion of the season before
turning it back on trying harder during their 13-game winning streak.
Defense certainly wasn’t the problem during the postseason opener. Combine their mediocre offensive effort and an energetic home crowd with the Celtics’ sloppy spacing, passing and decision-making, and you had the recipe for a grind-it-out home win for New York.
In particular, Rivers was irked by his group’s inability to play as a team.
“Well honestly, we turned the ball over a ton,” he said. “I thought our spacing in the second half was horrendous. I thought we stopped trusting a little bit offensively. I thought each guy held the ball and tried to make their own play. I actually talked about it before the game. That’s just not who we are. We can’t be that way and we tried to play that way in the second half, so that was disappointing. Overall, I see a lot of things that we can do. We just have to do it.”
Paul Pierce echoed his coach’s frustrations and sounded like a player who had just been part of a historically bad fourth quarter.
“Offensively we got to do a better job with our execution,” Pierce said. “I think we turned the ball over too much, allowed them to get offensive rebounds in he fourth and that’s huge in a playoff game. When you turn the ball over, when you don’t execute especially in the playoffs and down the stretch in a close game.”
As the series moves to Game 2 on Monday, it is important to see if New York’s defensive effort will carry over. The Knicks can’t expect Kevin Garnett to be Boston’s fourth-best player throughout the series. They know they’re not always going to shoot lights out from the perimeter, that they will have to rely on defense on more than a few occasions if they’re going to put up a fight for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
“I think we all believe or understand that championships are won by playing defense,” said Kidd. “This is a perfect example. It wasn’t our best offensive night but we stayed the course and we got stops when we needed to as a team and that’s what helped us win this afternoon.”
Perhaps most importantly, the Knicks are treating this how it should be treated: as a single game on a journey to 16 wins.
“This is a veteran ballclub; we know we haven’t accomplished anything,” explained Kidd. “For us, Game 1 is over and we’ve got to find a way to protect home court in Game 2 because the swing games I’ve always felt are always the most important ones.”
Jeremy Bauman is an aspiring shooting coach and scout who writes columns and blogs for SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.