NEW YORK –- The last time Gregg Popovich saw Jason Kidd, the Brooklyn Nets were a team in disarray.
It was New Year’s Eve, when Kidd scrambled to get his players from the locker room to play out the final seconds of a blowout loss in San Antonio.
Thursday, over a month later, Pop saw a different Kidd and Nets team.
“I think Jason probably feels like he’s been reborn,” Popovich said. “Things looked really bad for a while, everybody’s on him. ... He’s got that tenacity and competiveness where he’s just not going to give in.”
Nevertheless, this win showed the continued progress Kidd and the Nets (22-25) have made. After a New Year’s Eve laugher on Dec. 31, the Nets were 11 games under .500. Since then, the Nets have gone 12-4 while Kidd has earned Eastern Conference Coach of the Month honors for January.
Back in December, the Nets easily could have lost this kind of game after the Spurs (36-14) opened a 12-point, first-quarter lead with a starting five Pop jokingly described as “two Americans, a Frenchman, an Italian and a Brazilian.”
But Kidd pulled a page out of the Popovich playbook. After the Nets started sluggish, Kidd went to his bench early for a spark, subbing for Deron Williams and Kevin Garnett less than six minutes into the game. Two months ago in a similar scenario, Kidd might've stuck with his starters longer.
In the third quarter, the Nets built an 11-point lead only to see it dwindle to two late. Kidd went with reserves Alan Anderson, Andrei Kirilenko, Mirza Teletovic and Shaun Livingston for most of the fourth quarter. Kidd sat Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce in the fourth, while Garnett and Williams didn’t play more than four minutes in the final quarter. Veteran Jason Terry (15 mpg) logged a DNP-coach’s decision.
The first-year coach continues to show he isn’t afraid to sit his high-priced stars or vets for a journeyman like Anderson, who had the hot hand with 19 of his 22 points coming in the second half.
Perhaps Kidd learned this kind of accountability from Pop in the summer of 2003, when Kidd nearly left New Jersey as a free agent to play for Popovich and the Spurs. During his visit to San Antonio, Kidd got a glimpse of how Pop runs the franchise, considered the standard of NBA success, before deciding to stay in New Jersey.
“He sits at the same table as [the team],” Kidd continued. “All 15 guys sit at the same table and are treated the same from Duncan to the 15th guy. They are all held accountable.”
That’s why Kidd drilled into his players’ heads at Thursday's morning shootaround that the Spurs should not be underestimated despite not having their Big Three. Under Pop’s system, any journeyman can play like Tony Parker any given night.
“They got guys that plug right in and act as Ginobilis and Duncans,” Kidd warned.
Fortunately for Kidd, Anderson played like Johnson on this night, burying jumper after jumper. Livingston (8 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks) and Kirilenko (8 rebounds, 6 assists) continue to fill the stat sheet up with all the little things necessary to win games. And Williams shook off an early knee injury to score 16 points and dish eight assists.
“We have so many different lineups and different ways that we can go at other teams,” Anderson said.
Kidd also managed to keep the minutes down for Johnson (27), Pierce (22) and Garnett (18) with a game in Detroit Friday.
Kidd has a long, long way to go in his coaching career. But Popovich will tell you that Kidd has made progress since the last time he saw him.
“It is difficult [to learn coaching on the fly], obviously all the pressures from every which way,” Popovich said of Kidd. “Those people that stick with it, have some perseverance, some standards and are strong enough to stick with them in the right way, good things can happen. And that’s what happened for him.”