The feature game in the NBA Friday night more than lived up to its billing. The rejuvenated Dallas Mavericks went into Atlanta and stole an overtime 111-103 victory from the hometown Hawks in a game played at playoff-like intensity. As expected, All-Star starters Dirk Nowitzki and Joe Johnson led their teams in scoring – but this game belonged to Jason Kidd. The future Hall-of-Famer filled up the stat sheet with 19 points, 16 rebounds and 17 assists. For the man who, along with Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson, is synonymous with the triple-double, last night’s performance was vintage. In fact, it was the first 15-15-15+ game in the NBA since Jason Kidd did it 14 years ago.
Kidd’s night was the latest in a Renaissance season for the soon-to-be 37-year-old point guard. After leading the New Jersey Nets to multiple NBA Finals appearances, Kidd was traded in 2008 to the Mavericks in a move that sent the much younger Devin Harris to the Nets. Kidd struggled to fit into the Mavericks’ half-court, slow-tempo offense which did not allow him to exploit his tremendous open court skills. He also had difficulty defending the young, super-quick point guards in the Western Conference such as Tony Parker and Chris Paul. The emergence of Devin Harris as a potential star with the Nets coupled with Kidd’s struggles led many to question the wisdom of the trade, particularly for a team that was a regular contender in the West. The Mavericks first round playoff exit that year at the hands of the New Orleans Hornets followed by another sub-par year in 2008-09 gave more fodder to Kidd’s critics.
The Mavericks, however, kept their faith in Kidd and rewarded him with a new three-year contract prior to this season – a move that is now paying dividends. He has successfully adjusted his previously flamboyant game to fit with the Mavericks’ style. Although he does not regularly put up the same numbers he logged in the past, Kidd, for the first time in his latest tenure with the Mavs, looks like the confident leader he had been for his entire career.
Last night Kidd played with an emotion and energy that seemed to have disappeared from his game the last couple of years. Fighting to the finish, Kidd nailed three consecutive 3-pointers in the final minutes of the fourth. And by creating contact with Hawks coach Mike Woodson, who had crept onto the court in open play shouting instructions to his players, the wily veteran even managed to draw a critical technical foul on Woodson and pick up a decisive point for his team. It is this poise under pressure that we have come to expect from Kidd over the years and that may help the Mavericks make a deeper playoff push this year.