The Missing Kidd
Knicks missing guard’s veteran leadership in the Battle of the Boroughs.
by Yaron Weitzman | @YaronWeitzman
NEW YORK—There was one thing conspicuously absent during Monday night’s Battle of the Boroughs/East River Showdown/Whatever Title Analogizing Sports To War you enjoy most, both in terms of the play on the court and the feeling off of it.
To many, geographical proximity is all that is needed for a rivalry. For these believers, the Nets’ 96-89 overtime victory Monday night at Brooklyn’s just-out-of-the-box Barclay’s Center, in a game where hard fouls were exchanged almost as frequently as leads, just served as further proof that these two franchises are primed to form The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports.
Count this writer as an agnostic. If zip codes determined rivalries, we’d all be waxing poetic about the fierce clashes that the Lakers and Clippers have had on the hardwood floor that they share. Rivalries are born out of Playoff battles—multiple—and traitors like Pat Riley. They’re born out of history, and the only recent history that these two teams share was sitting out Monday night with lower back spasms.
Once upon a time Jason Kidd was what Deron Williams hopes to be: the heart and soul of a Nets team that competed for Championships. Now the former leader of the “fugazy” Nets—as Tim Thomas so elegantly labeled them the last time there was true bitterness between these two franchises—wears orange and blue.
Kidd has been a revelation for the Knicks. Everything they could have hoped for and more. His shooting (50 percent from behind the arc) and brains and incessant desire to find the best possible shot every possession, a desire which seems to have become contagious, has catapulted the Knicks to a 9-4 record and the top of the NBA’s standings.
“He’s been great for me,” said Raymond Felton in front of his locker after Monday night’s game. “He’s been like a mentor, a big brother in a sense. He’s really been in my ear and helping me out.”
Yes, Felton calling Kidd a mentor just minutes after a performance in which he alternated bad shooting (3-19 from the field) and horrendous decision making and saw himself thoroughly outplayed by his Brooklyn counterpart, Deron Williams (16 points, 14 assists), may not be the best way to illustrate Kidd’s impact. Before you dismiss this quote, though, take a moment to remember that a player who Portland couldn’t wait to exile last season is now the starting point guard for, statistically, the best offense in basketball (111.5 points per 100 possessions).
This is no coincidence. Nor is the new move-the-ball philosophy that Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith have adopted. And never was Kidd’s presence more apparent than Monday night, when, as is often the case, his absence proved his value.
With Kidd at home nursing a sore back, the Knicks offense floundered and, for the first time this season, resembled the one that looked so bad in the Playoffs last year against the Heat. The open lanes and space that have turned JR Smith into an efficient scorer—something once thought to be impossible—disappeared. Carmelo Anthony was forced off the low block and didn’t have as many shooters to pass to. On more than one occasion, the Knicks struggled with throwing a simple entry pass into the high post. In the fourth quarter and overtime they seemed to not have a clue as to how to attack the Nets defense which, for the first time all season, looked like one of the League’s best.
“We missed JKidd tonight, there’s no question,” said Steve Novak, who went just 1-3 despite playing 18 minutes. “To have another ball handler out there like Jason, you know, it makes a big difference.
“Just having another guy that makes the right pass and to kind of be in control, as point guard, he’s just the best at it.”
Kidd’s absence was also evident to those who don’t depend on a player like him as much as a stone-footed shooter like Novak’s does.
“You know, I think we really missed Jason tonight,” Kurt Thomas said. “I think him being out really got us out of our rhythm. He’s so smart out there on the floor, he makes the right pass, he’s a great defender.”
Mind you, neither of these statements were the result of a reporter using his best weapon: the leading question, something along the lines of, Did you miss Jason Kidd tonight and why? Both, rather, were voluntarily offered up as reasons for why the Knicks’ offense appeared to be so stagnant. Why they only hit six shots from behind the arc, five less than the League-best 11 they average. Why they only had 14 assists compared to their usual 20. Why only two players—Anthony and Tyson Chandler—had more than 8 points.
It may be foolish to rely on a 39-year-old guard, but, as of today, it seems like the Knicks’ season may be more tied to Kidd than they had previously expected. For better or for worse.
As for the Battle of the Boroughs, a rivalry in desperate need of some bad blood—the kind that can boil over when a former star plays the team that he once demanded to trade him and when two teams meet late in the Playoffs—well, that battle is in desperate need of Kidd’s help, too.