NEW YORK — It has been a decade since Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin helped lead the New Jersey Nets to back-to-back NBA Finals.
Now here it is 10 years later, and the two cagey veterans played a critical role in helping the Knicks take a 1-0 series lead on the Boston Celtics with an 85-78 victory Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
While Carmelo Anthony once again led the way with a game-high 36 points, the 40-year-old Kidd played brilliantly, putting up eight points, five rebounds, three assists and three critical steals down the stretch.
After returning following a five-game absence because of a sprained left ankle, Martin, 35, played 28 minutes in place of an ineffective Tyson Chandler and nearly had a double-double of 10 points and nine rebounds to go with two blocks.
“You couldn’t write it any better,” Martin said of his partnership with Kidd on the Nets and now the Knicks.
“You couldn’t script it. It’s a great feeling. From where I started at the beginning of the season [out of the NBA] and to be back here, we’re going to try to make this thing work.”
Martin’s moment in the sun came with 40 seconds left when an assist-less Melo fired in a tough high pass into the post as Kevin Garnett momentarily left Martin alone under the basket. Martin managed to catch it and score a clutch layup that made it 85-78 for the game’s final points.
“Terrible pass,” Martin said. “Melo said thanks for bailing me out. He was saying it’s a great catch. I was in the right position at the right time. It’s the way they was playing it the whole game. He saw me and I made a helluva catch, and I thought I missed the layup at first, it took a little while for it to go in.”
Said Anthony: “I made a tough pass. I didn’t even think he was going to get there but K-Mart bailed me out on that.”
Kidd was impressed by his old Nets’ teammate.
“I don’t know if he wants to be called Dez Bryant, but that catch he made from Melo was incredible,” Kidd said. “That was a big play for us and it kind of sealed the game. But he’s a guy that’s been through these battles and we all appreciate that he’s on our side.”
Kidd, meantime, turned back the clock and got three huge fourth-quarter steals, including one where he dove on the floor for the loose all on the perimeter and then fired it up ahead for a basket by Anthony.
“I told him, not half the league, 90 percent of the league is quicker and faster and he beats everybody with his brain,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of Kidd.
“He really does. He beats them in the ground with his brain. I don’t know what that says, but he does it. He’s just in the right place.
“If you think quicker than the guy can move, then you’re still quicker. That way he’s there first. He thought what the guy was going to do before the guy did it. He’s just a valuable player to have on a basketball team.”
Said Knicks coach Mike Woodson: “Jason has been doing this all season. Loose balls, strips, keeping balls alive. He just seems to be in the right place at the right time.”
Kidd agreed, saying he simply “understood tendencies” of the other team.
“The big thing is just understanding and kind of seeing the play develop and hopefully getting there before they get the ball in the basket,” Kidd said.
Still, despite the win, Kidd knows the Knicks have to get back to work in Game 2.
“This is a veteran ballclub,” he said. “We haven’t accomplished anything. For us, Game 1 is over and we gotta find a way to protect homecourt and Game 2 because the swing games I’ve alway said are the most important ones.”
But for one night, the old Nets, K-Mart and J-Kidd, turned back the clock to their days with the Nets, only this time it was on the other side of the Hudson River.
“It’s a great feeling, we’ve been here before,” Martin said. “I was very, very happy that [Kidd] got in his [ring] in Dallas but we’re here together again and in crunch time we was on the court again. It felt like old times.
“So if we can do this thing here it would be much greater.”
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