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Kidd ratchets up playoff game a notch

Jason Kidd has played in 89 career NBA playoff games, more than the combined total of the entire Raptors roster. So on the opening day of the postseason, the Nets' star passed along this kernel of basketball wisdom.

"The rim doesn't change," Kidd said Saturday afternoon. "The ball doesn't change. It's not a square ball, it's a round ball."

The rudiments of the sport don't change. But some of the players do. The great ones become transformed at this time of year. Their eyes get wider, their will stronger, their sense of the big moment a little more profound. When the second season arrives, the great ones elevate their games and their teams.

Kidd showed this city's victory-starved hoop fans what the playoffs are all about. The veteran point guard was the best player on the floor, coming within two points of a triple-double as the Nets stole Game One of their East Conference quarterfinal from the Raptors, 96-91, in the Air Canada Centre.

Most of the pregame hype surrounded the return of Vince Carter, the much reviled ex-Raptor. It was the Raptors' first playoff game in five years -- and the the first postseason game for All-Star forward Chris Bosh and several other key players on the Atlantic Division champs.

But not surprisingly, it was the 6-foot-4 Kidd who took over when the playoff spotlight came on. Kidd had six assists in the first seven minutes. His driving layup midway through the first period gave the Nets a lead they never relinquished. Kidd finished with eight points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds.

Those kind of stat lines are commonplace for Kidd, who is third on the all-time list in triple-doubles. He averaged 13 points, 8.2 rebounds and 9.2 assists in the regular season, joining Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson as the only players to average 13 points, eight assists and nine rebounds.
Stats don't always tell the story in basketball. But in Kidd's case, the numbers reflect a superstar's gift for controlling a game with his sheer athletic skill and basketball intelligence.

"He does it as well as anybody," said New Jersey forward Richard Jefferson, who led all scorers with 28 points and was the recipient of eight Kidd assists. "You can see in the playoffs how his game goes to another level -- playing defense, getting rebounds, hitting big shots. Every playoff game I've ever played in, I've been next to him. So it's something you get used to."

The Nets have made the playoffs six straight times since acquiring Kidd from Phoenix in a deal for Stephon Marbury. Kidd changed the Nets from an NBA joke to a perennial contender, a team that reached the NBA Finals in his first two seasons in New Jersey.

This was a difficult season for Kidd, who turned 34 in March. He went through a public divorce from his wife, Joumana. The couple, who have three children, accused each other of domestic abuse. The charges were later dropped.

During the worst of Kidd's personal troubles, there were rumors of a possible trade to the Lakers. The Nets insisted it had nothing to do with Kidd's off-court problems. The deal never went through, reportedly because the Lakers wouldn't part with young phenom Andrew Bynum.

The Nets are glad they didn't part with Kidd now. A month ago, they were 31-38 and in danger of missing the playoffs. They finished 10-3 and surged into the sixth spot in the East. Kidd was brilliant, averaging 9.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 9.9 assists over the final 13 games.

That put the Nets in a very winnable series against the Raptors, who lack playoff experience. Despite its No. 6 seed, New Jersey was the fashionable pick. Hey, they have Kidd.

"I thought our experience showed when we were up by one [84-83]," Kidd said. "We got a stop and we never panicked. The regular season is over with. We know this will be a tough series. Toronto played well throughout the season, but we started this zero-zero and we felt confident."

The Nets have good reason to be confident. Jefferson, who missed a third of the season due to ankle surgery, is healthy. Carter has been sensational down the stretch. Kidd and Carter shot a combined 8 for 30 from the floor and the Nets still won.

The Raptors are a talented team. They have the best point guard tandem in the NBA in T.J. Ford and Jose Calderon. But in Kidd, the Nets have one of the best point guards ever to play, a sure Hall of Famer. The ball and the rim don't change. But he's capable of changing any playoff game.

"As a veteran, this is what you play for," Kidd said. "As a competitor, you play for that one goal, which is to win a championship. So every possession counts. Every time you take the floor for a new season, this is what you're looking toward. This is what it's all about."

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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