Jason Kidd's Nets: the dream that Shaq and Duncan brought down

Born in the ABA (where they won two titles), the Nets reached the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003, but succumbed to the superiority of the West.


Shaquille, Kobe and Tim Duncan took care of everything. They were the main executioners of the best Nets that have passed through the NBA, some who dominated an Eastern Conference as weak as it is open, in which the regular season records were very poor and anyone could sneak into a Finals that, from 1999 to 2003 They always had a winner from the West. The elongated shadow of Michael Jordan caused that, after his retirement, the crisis of the weaker Conference became increasingly greater, and still today, more than 20 years later, it gives the feeling that there is a superiority of the West that has been translated in data: 15 titles for only seven from the East, a meager 31.8%: one from the Pistons (2004), three from Miami (2006, 2012 and 2013), the big three from Boston in 2008, one from Cleveland (2016 ) and that of the Raptors, in 2019. Not much for a Conference that had great competitiveness between 2006 and 2010 (Cavs, Pistons, Heat, Magic, Celtics), but that fell apart again with the departure of LeBron heading to Florida , The Decision via

However, the East never suffered as much as immediately after Jordan's departure. None of the five subsequent Finals reached the seventh game: two finished 4-2, another 4-1 and another, the 2002 one, with a categorical sweep. It was precisely the first time that the Nets reached the NBA Finals, after winning the championship up to two times in the ABA, with Julius Erving as the star and Kevin Loughery as the coach. They were the golden years of the 70s, one that has a greater dimension than it is granted but in which the fierce struggle between the ABA and the NBA threatened the latter, the economic problems derived from television audiences struck to American basketball. Until David Stern made his landing as commissioner, there was no clear evolution towards a more modern, spectacular era with a greater transcendence and openness. But, before that transition, there was a merger between the two major leagues that ended with four ABA teams in the NBA (Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs and the Nets) and Julius Erving signing for the Sixers by work and the grace of some Knicks who preferred the 4.8 million they requested from the Nets for invading their commercial space instead of a generational player who changed the way we see basketball.

The Knicks cashed in thinking they could go back to their very recent glory days (1970 and 1973 rings). The Nets, who reneged on promises of a salary increase to their star, were left without her and only lasted a year in New York (22-60) before moving to New Jersey. And the NBA, which absorbed the ABA with Larry O'Brein as commissioner, was left with four new teams (later there were expansions), the only originals from that other League, and of which only one has emerged as champion: the Spurs. That they played, by the way, in the 2003 Finals against the Nets, the only one that has faced two teams that were born in the ABA and the last that played a special team, but that barely had historical significance due to the fact of reaching two Finals consecutive (something that nobody did in the East since the Jordan Bulls and that Detroit repeated in 2004 and 2005) in an absolutely impoverished Conference from which, yes, they managed to get out unscathed twice.Jason Kidd, the classic point guard power

Those Nets were, of course, led by Jason Kidd. The point guard was selected in the second place in the draft by the Mavericks, where he spent two seasons before making the jump to the Suns in which he would coincide with another spectacular point guard, Steve Nash, who had not yet exploded, something he would do precisely in Dallas before going back to Arizona and changing basketball (With D'Antoni, Stoudemire, Marion and company). But it was in the Nets where Kidd definitely exploded and had his ring options, for the first time, one that he would not end up winning until 2011 with the Mavericks, in a totally different role and in a veteran team but full of talent, experience and thirst. of revenge, which they ended up satiating with the victory in the Finals against those Heat who had left them without a title that they touched five years before, in 2006.

Kidd led the league in assists five times, three of them at Phoenix. An excellent passer, he was a smart player who did not have the speed or ease of someone like Nash, but who played counterattacks well and involved all his teammates in the game. With a great capacity for rebounding (6.3 on average in his career), he is the fourth player with the most triple-doubles in history (107) and one of the only four to pass the hundred, a club that has not LeBron James will be slow to join. In addition, Kidd was an excellent defender, with a great capacity for one-on-one, ease of stealing and good hands that allowed him to cover the passing lanes well or defend taller and larger men than him, such as LeBron himself in the aforementioned Finals of 2011. Perhaps his greatest weakness, as Phil Jackson pointed out before the 2002 title tie, was pitching, in which he was somewhat irregular: he barely pitched 40% during his career and was, in his beginnings, a bad pitcher of three, something that he corrected as the years went by almost out of obligation. It was never safe from there, but in Dallas, with less dribble time and ball time on his hands, he averaged almost 43% on 3s in the 2011 Finals, an excellent figure.

The Nets went to 52 wins in 2001-02, the only team to break the 50 mark besides the Pistons. They were an extremely interesting team full of names: Jason Kidd, Kerry Kittles, Keith Van Horn, Richard Jeferson and others of less quality but also known as Jason Collins, Brian Scalabrine or Todd MacCulloch, who repeated the Finals after playing them in 2001 with the Sixers by Allen Iverson and Dikembe Mutombo. The latter, by the way, signed for the Nets for 2002-03, but his problems with Byronn Scott did not allow him to have much prominence and he quickly went into decline, including physical discomfort. Scott, by the way, was a coach at the time whose reputation as a player was unimpeachable: part of the Showtime Lakers and mentor to Kobe Bryant in his final year as a professional (and the first of the shooting guard), he had great fame among players and was a good guy, open and talkative, who showed great tactical skills. He was a great coach in the Nets and then in the Hornets (those of Chris Paul, Pedja Stojakovic, David West, Tyson Chandler ...), although his reputation has been diluted in his later jobs, first in the Cavaliers post LeBron and then in the Lakers, his Lakers, in which he spent two seasons of 21 and 17 victories, which served to dismiss Kobe with honors ... and little else.Two Impossible Finals

The Nets were not favorites for either of the two championships and that was seen in abundance, especially in the first of them. In the Eastern Finals, they overcame the biggest comeback in playoff history at the Garden in Game 3 to win the next three. But against Kobe and Shaq they couldn't do anything. The guard went to 26.8 + 5.8 + 5.3, with 51.4% in field shots and 54.5% (!!) in triples. And no one could defend O'Neal, not MacCulloch or young Jason Collins: 36.3 points and 12.3 rebounds average for his third MVP of the Finals and the third consecutive ring of the first great post-Jordan dynasty. The Nets were there in three of the four games (they only lost the second by more than 6 points), but they failed in clutch time and proved to be inferior to the Angelenos, who at no point got nervous and jumped into the first game in the Staples knowing that his historic series against the Kings, in the Western Finals, had been a clear early end. Kidd, by the way, posted a triple-double on his debut in the title round, and he averaged 20.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 9.8 assists.

In 2003 history repeated itself. The Nets stayed this time at 49 wins, one less than the Pistons, and again proving that the East lacked fry. With that record, in fact, they could only have been seventh in the West. Of course, they slipped into the Finals, this time against the Spurs, executioners (finally) of some Lakers who had not lost a playoff tie since 1999 (also against San Antonio, go) and Phil Jackson, who did not do the same since 1995. Spurs and Nets, protagonists of the first ABA Finals, represented boredom and defense taken to the point of elimination, never giving in, permanently holding up rivals, filling the area with bulky bodies and achieving victory in matches of few points. In fact, only the Pistons, another defining team of that rough and yet hard-working style, received less than them in the regular season: 87.7 from Bad Boys 2.0, still without Larry Brown or Rasheed Wallace (they would arrive the following year), 90.1 of the Nets, second in this classification, and 80.4 of the Spurs, third. Both also caused an identical percentage in field goals in their rivals, 42.7%, the second best data in the NBA. Something that the Nets rounded off by forcing 16.6 losses to the teams they faced, third best data in the League, getting the best defensive rating, by the third of the Spurs. Warned, of course, we were, that we were not going to see big flourishes or bulky scores in those Finals, which generated much less expectations of entry than those of previous years.The Nets fought more than in 2002, but it was Duncan's Finals: the power forward averaged 24 points, 17 rebounds, 5 assists ... and 5 blocks in the series. Already in the first meeting it went to 32 + 20 + 6 + 7, video game figures. In the second he was dwarfed by the visiting spirit, who started his first victory in the Finals with 30 points from Jason Kidd, that dimensionless and imaginative base that had appeared in the Second Best Quintet with averages of 18.7 + 6.3 + 8.9. The Spurs regained the field advantage in the third, the one in which Kerr had declared wanting to go home, with 41% in shots from the field for 39.5% of his rival. In the fourth, with a victory for New Jersey, the picture was even worse, with the lowest score imaginable (77-76), 114 missed shots and 27 turnovers combined. Jason Kidd had a key to the training court that he had never used and which he had to resort to in the face of such nonsense. It did not help him to win the fifth (with 29 + 17 + 4 + 4 from Duncan), nor the sixth, in which they fell (with resistance, yes) before the most superhuman version of the power forward, who was absolutely unstoppable : 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and 8 blocks, almost a quadruple-double that would have been unprecedented, second ring for the Spurs, second MVP of the Finals and definitive consolidation in legend status.

During those Finals, the Nets did not exceed 90 points in any of the six games, in three of them they stayed below 80 and in the last four their top was 83. The Spurs were not far behind, starring in the The only meeting, the inaugural one, which had one of the two teams over a hundred and once again crossing the border of the 90s, a very poor balance that showed what was a rough and ugly series, as if both together They failed to bet, even as if none of them wanted to win a ring that no one other than the Lakers had won since 1999. During those Finals, by the way, a genius named Steve Kerr appeared to define what the viewer didn't want to say out loud. : "I have wanted to get off the bench and go home." Kerr then won his fifth ring and headed to his retirement as a player to begin a story that has become historic in Golden State.

He was the last great option for the Nets, who succumbed to the Pistons the following year in the semifinals, in seven games. Kidd then tried it with Vince Carter, but could do nothing in New Jersey, the city where the franchise was maintained until 2012. The point guard, by the way, went to 19.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 7.8 assists in the Finals, but only 36% shooting. And he had to wait for his return to Dallas to finally see the glory. One that the Nets want to meet again, for the first time since the 70s in the ABA and with a team that is far apart (in substance and in shape) from the one that ran out of luck in the 2002 and 2003 Finals. James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant will be in charge of taking a franchise without identity and with a strange idiosyncrasy to a title that has never achieved (in the NBA, we insist) to make history ... or cause such a talented team to end in failure , something that would also be historical. Both things can happen. And the most curious thing is that none of them would surprise us. NBA Stuff.

Photos from as.com
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