'Spectacular' Kidd Leads Mavs Over Blazers

'Hey,' Jason Kidd said after running out to the floor earlier than everyone else, running around on the floor better than anybody else, and then after a Game 1 win, running off the floor faster than anybody else, 'I'm young.' He was also something else: 'Spectacular,' said coach Rick Carlisle, part of our First Impressions:

It was almost two-and-a-half hours before the Portland-at-Dallas Game 1 tipoff, and the difference in 38-year-old Jason Kidd was already in evidence. He was clean-shaven, head and face, and his golf tan seemed a bit faded, too. He was also on the floor at that early hour in the day, the only Mav out there in an otherwise largely empty gym. And he was working up a sweat doing the one thing that, by reputation, is a wobble in his otherwise legendary game:

Kidd worked ferociously on an array of jumpshots.

Then the game started. And the Dallas Mavericks' securing of an 89-81 victory is the result of him working ferociously again on an array of jumpshots – only these actually counted.

"I was ready,'' said Kidd, who shocked the Blazers with 24 points. "The (end-of-regular-season) rest definitely helped. (The Mavs) did a great job of resting me and keeping me fresh and ready. I had my little rest. I got my legs back.''

Said coach Rick Carlisle of Kidd: "Spectacular We had some guys who didn't play their best games, but Jason Kidd played the game of the year to this point.''

The Mavs have their soiled reputation as an almost-great team, the only explanation for why outsiders harbor such distrust in what this 57-win team would be able to accomplish against the 47-win Blazers. Picking Portland in seven means you believe the Blazers will beat a five-point favorite in the road in a Game 7. Picking Portland in four? One prominent NBA beat writer put that on paper. I joked that the dislike for the Mavs (who've been ousted in Round 1 in three of the last four years) is such another national writer with an image as a "basketball scientist'' would, if possible, pick "Portland in three.''

"The national media,'' said Mavs owner Mark Cuban, sarcastically enjoying the volley, "is always right.''

But Dallas now has a steady upper hand on the series outcome. NBA teams that win the first game of a series go on to win the series 79 percent of the time, and before you suggest that Dallas is the sort of postseason flop that stands to ruin even that, know this: The Mavs are historically 10-4 in Game 1's played at home. The Blazers are historically 4-21 in Game 1's played on the road.

So while much of this game wasn't predictable, maybe the anticipation of a "steady hand'' was.

And the steadiest hand of all belongs to Kidd. He watched his team lose a 57-51 lead when he exited with 1:20 remaining in the third quarter. Dallas went 11 minutes without a field goal … but then he returned and with help from Dirk Nowitzki (three quarters of struggles until scoring an astounding 18-point fourth quarter) … the Mavs closed in control.

"Nineteen free throws is a lot of free throws in a quarter,'' said Portland coach Nate McMillan, trying to beg for future breaks in future games. "It's hard to know how to play.''

Well, for Jason Kidd, it's not hard to know how to play. This is his playground, his reason for making sure he sustains his way through the long 82-game season, the reason he took a couple games off late in the year when the Mavs seemed fairly certain they were going to end up the No. 2 seed. Now, is he going to go 6-for-10 from 3-point land in a multitude of games this series? That many makes represents his career playoff-high, so that's doubtful. But is Dirk Nowitzki going to go three quarters shooting 5-of-16? Know that his 28/10 is his 66th career double-double, and that he is one of just four players in NBA history (Olajuwon, Baylor and Pettit) to average 25 points and 10 rebounds in the playoffs.

So much failure from Dirk is doubtful, too.

The Mavs believe that they can survive even if forced to play Portland's plodding pace (and maybe even if LaMarcus Aldridge goes for 27), and they proved it in the first half when they allowed just those 37 points. They also believe that's the result of their individual skills within their half-court defense, where Tyson Chandler (nine rebounds, two blocks), DeShawn Stevenson (responding to his elevation into the starting lineup with sound perimeter defense) and Shawn Marion (two blocks and a steal) were generally up to the task.

Oh, and Kidd, too.

He got a little outside help on offense from Jason Terry (10 points) and Peja Stojakovic (six points), but Kidd was left to carry a shooting load, a defensive load and the BBIQ load. Kidd's total line is plump – 9-of-14 shooting, four assists, five rebounds, two steals, a block, and despite having the ball in his hands on seemingly every possession, just one turnover.

Smile

"We all know Dirk and Jet are our offensive guys,'' Kidd said. "But in the playoffs you have to have other guys who score. I know that our opponents are going to give me that jumpshot and I need to be able to knock it down.''

Jason Kidd did so repeatedly, just as he did in his own personal pregame workout. He was the first guy on the floor … and then after a Game 1 that he personally sealed, guess what?

Still apparently being carried around by those "fresh legs,'' he was the first guy who sprinted off the floor and into the winning locker room.

"Hey,'' Kidd said, "I'm young.''

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