DALLAS -- On a night when points were at a premium and the Dallas Mavericks stared down a six-point deficit with 6:07 to play, who figured it would be 38-year-old Jason Kidd looking to his teammates and pleading: Fellas, a little help?
He'd get a fourth-quarter boost from his buddy Dirk Nowitzki, who had 18 of his 28 in the final period, but it was Kidd who otherwise thrilled the crowd and carried the Mavs to an important 89-81 Game 1 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday.
The 17th-year point guard pounded Portland with the type of spirited, high-scoring performance that the Blazers' scouting department would have had to search the vaults to find such a game film. Kidd put together a career playoff high with six 3-pointers and a season-high 24 points.
Sporting a freshly shaven face and scalp to go with his refreshed legs, Kidd tripled his season scoring average and felt so good doing it that he even took his game inside the arc. He buried perhaps the biggest basket of the game with 5:28 to play, a 19-foot swish that ended Dallas' excruciating 11-minute field goal drought that put the game in doubt. The basket cut Portland's lead to four and settled down a skittish sellout crowd.
From there, Dallas outscored the Blazers 19-9. Kidd iced it with 25 seconds to play with a phenomenal play above the arc against mere 35-year-old Portland point guard Andre Miller. With the shot clock ticking down, Kidd faced-up Miller then took one dribble forward that got Miller off balance and opened a little daylight. Kidd stepped back and fired.
The Mavs went up seven and it was all over.
"This is what the playoffs are all about: pressure," Kidd said. "There's always going to be somebody that steps up, the X factor or somebody unknown. As Dirk would say in the locker room, they didn't have me on the board for scoring 24 points tonight, so I guess I was the X factor of the game."
But, let's get real. J-Kidd can't be the X factor of the series if the Mavs expect to win. He must be a factor, period. He might not score 24 points again in his career, but Kidd must be a threat every night and he must make Portland pay for its defensive switches as it tries to contain Nowitzki, who had just 10 points and no free throw attempts after three quarters.
"It was talked about that I needed to be a little bit more aggressive and look to score more," Kidd said. "We felt they were going to do a lot of switching. That's what we've been working, shooting the ball. I didn't shoot the ball extremely well during the season, but once I got my legs back, I felt fresh, my mechanics came back and I got lucky and made some shots tonight."
Consider that Kidd's 24 points amount to exactly half of his total output from last season's disappointing first-round loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Kidd opened that series with quite a game as well -- 13 points, 11 assists and four steals -- before it all went downhill.
The key number in that game was 41:18, as in Kidd's time logged. On Saturday, he played a very reasonable 34:18, and he now has two days to rest before Tuesday's Game 2.
Kidd hit two 3s in the first quarter and another in the second as Dallas took a 10-point lead to the locker room. After Portland cut Dallas' lead to 47-43 with a 6-0 run to start the second half, Kidd knocked down consecutive 3s to get the lead back to 10.
"Spectacular," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "We had some guys that didn't play their best games, but Jason Kidd played the game of the year to this point. Every shot he made, every play he made was absolutely essential for us."
Either team could have won this game, and both will point to areas that surely won't be repeated. The Mavs got just 10 points from Jason Terry and 22 from their bench. Nowitzki was 7-of-20 from the field, and defensively the Mavs gave up six alley-oop dunks to LaMarcus Aldridge.
The Blazers got 10 points combined from big guards Wesley Matthews, Brandon Roy and Rudy Fernandez, the mismatch that was supposed to worry the Mavs, and Gerald Wallace barely showed up with eight points.
And, of course, Kidd won't score 24 again, the Blazers will contend.
"Nobody thinks of him as a shooter," said Roy, who finished with two points. "We didn't predict him to make six."
He probably won't again, but as long as he's a threat and keeps his 3-point eye sharp, the Blazers will be challenged to guard the perimeter and keep Nowitzki under control.
Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.