- Jerry Bembry
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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- No, Jason Kidd insisted, it wasn't the biggest shot of his career. Asked a second time, he gave the same response. But another reporter's persistence ended up with Kidd doing what he does best.
"Yeah," Kidd said, kind of rolling his eyes when asked for the third time whether the shot was the biggest of his career. "Why not?"
Here's the beauty of Kidd's game: He missed 13 of his first 18 shots and committed three of his team-high four turnovers in the second half on Sunday, but with 1.4 seconds left, Kidd hits a high-arching baseline jumper -- a shot he didn't even see go through the basket because he was being challenged by 7-footer Mehmet Okur -- that gave the Nets a 76-74 win over the Pistons in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
With the basket, the Nets gain home-court advantage. They also gain more and more confidence in their chase for an NBA title, which they know is much more obtainable since a guy named Shaq is no longer around. More importantly, the Nets -- in shooting just 39.7 percent from the field and matching their playoff low of 76 points -- proved they can win at playing Detroit's brand of defensive-minded basketball.
"We can, as you guys call it, play pretty basketball when we get up and down the floor, or we can win ugly games," Nets coach Byron Scott said. "We have proven that we can win in a number of ways."
For the Pistons, scoring just might be the major obstacle in beating a Nets team that has now won seven straight games. In a series opener that ended up as a grind-it-out affair and saw the Nets hold the Pistons to 11 points in the fourth quarter, here's the most telling stat: New Jersey opened the game by scoring its first 18 points -- that's right, 18 straight points -- on the fastbreak against the league's No. 1 defensive team.
Let's put that in perspective. In the conference semifinals against Detroit, the most points the 76ers scored in a game on the fastbreak was 17. In fact, in the opening 10 minutes of Sunday's Game 1, the Nets had more fast-break points than the Pistons and Sixers had combined in three of the games in their East semifinal series that went six.
So what does it mean? It means that when Kidd isn't shooting the ball well, he's still putting his imprint on the game. If the Nets don't open the game strong (Kidd either scored or assisted on seven of New Jersey's 11 first-quarter field goals), there's a good chance New Jersey doesn't win the game.
The game, after that opening quarter, turned into a slow-tempo battle and exposed New Jersey's major flaw -- its inability to generate a fluid offense in halfcourt sets. That's the reason why the Nets, after leading by as many as 12 points in the first half, fell behind by as many as 10 in the second half and appeared to miss an opportunity to steal the game.
But while the Nets are known for the ability to run, they also had the second-best defense in the Eastern Conference this season. And it was the defense that got them back into the game, holding the Pistons to just two fourth-quarter field goals -- including one stretch where Detroit didn't score for nearly four minutes.
"We just tried to make it as tough on those guys as possible," Scott said. "We know it's going to be a tough, physical series. That's how they play, and that's how we play."
And the way the Nets clamped down on defense allowed Kidd to make his play: the game winning shot. (Okur somehow managed to get off two point-blank attempts at the basket after Kidd's shot, but missed both.)
"Coach called my name, my number, and they put the ball in my hands," Kidd said. "I told (my teammates) I was riding their shoulders because I couldn't throw the ball in the ocean. I finally made one."
Jerry Bembry is general editor (NBA) for ESPN The Magazine. You can reach him via e-mail at Jerry.Bembry@ESPN3.com.
The Nets don't always have to run. They can take their time and walk, too, just like the Pistons.