Here’s the thing about Brooklyn Nets rookie coach Jason Kidd: He’s never afraid to do something unorthodox if he believes it will help his team win.
With Sunday night’s game in Dallas hanging in the balance, Andray Blatche failed to box out Samuel Dalembert on two occasions (with 1:11 left and 44 seconds left). Even more inexplicably, Blatche fouled Dalembert both times, resulting in the Mavericks center going 3-for-4 at the free-throw line. Dalembert’s last two freebies gave Dallas a 91-87 lead.
On Brooklyn’s ensuing possession, Kidd drew up a play for Paul Pierce to get to the rim -- and he did, earning two free throws. Pierce made the first.
Following that make, Kidd elected to sub Alan Anderson for Blatche ... meaning that 6-foot-7 Paul Pierce would be playing center! The rest of the lineup? 6-foot-7 Joe Johnson, 6-foot-7 Shaun Livingston, 6-foot-6 Alan Anderson, and 6-foot-3 Deron Williams.
The Nets turned their season around by playing “small ball” or “long ball.”
This felt like “super small ball.”
But there was a method to Kidd’s madness.
Allow him to explain: “We felt like Paul could play the 5. Why not? We’ve put him at the 4, so we were going to try him out at the 5. That’s something we’ve talked about doing, but we all have to come in and rebound. We had Paul in our switching group out there. That helped us get some stops.”
Pierce made the second free throw. Now, it was time to get a stop.
The Mavericks ran an isolation play for 7-footer Dirk Nowitzki. Livingston, five inches shorter, drew the defensive assignment. With Anderson threatening to double Nowitzki and Livingston playing excellent 1-on-1 D, Nowitzki took one of his patented turnaround, fallaway one-legged jumpers. He air-balled the shot. Johnson caught the rebound.
Then it was time for this “small” lineup to execute on offense.
Livingston brought the ball up the floor and handed it off to Johnson.
Last 10 seconds of a game in which the Nets are tied or trailing by three or fewer points?
Gotta go to Iso Joe. Gotta go to "Joe Jesus."
Johnson immediately took the ball to the left wing. Anderson (left corner), Pierce (right wing) and Williams (right corner) were all available and more than capable 3-point threats.
The floor was spread. Johnson had more than enough room to operate. He blew by Shawn Marion with a left-handed dribble, gathered himself and then laid the ball in the basket to tie the game at 91 with 9.9 seconds remaining.
Make Johnson a perfect 7-for-7 on shots taken in the above scenario over the last two seasons.
The Nets would win the game in overtime, making a winner out of Kidd on his his 41st birthday in his return to the Big D.
Kidd has become known as a coach that trusts his instincts and players. If one of them gets hot, Kidd isn’t afraid to play that player in crunch time. On Sunday night, it was Marcus Thornton, who scored 11 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter. Rookie Mason Plumlee? Huge contributor with Kevin Garnett out. Ten-day guy Jorge Gutierrez? Thrown into the rotation, because why not?
Defensively, the Nets threw everything but the kitchen sink at Nowitzki, forcing him into a 2-for-12 shooting night. Kidd admitted the Nets “got lucky.”
Sort of. Nowitzki did miss several open shots. But the Nets also mixed up their coverages on him, sending double-teams, switching and contesting as many of his shots as they could.
Livingston, Pierce, Mirza Teletovic, Johnson and Blatche all guarded him at some point in his 12 attempted field goals.
“Defensively, guys were switching, were able to keep the ball in front of them and taking the 3-pointers away there in the second half was a big part of our success,” Kidd said. “Our defense didn’t break, it might have bent at times, but we got steals and came up with big stops when we had to.”
The Nets are now 10-2 in March. Yes, the rookie coach might just get his second Eastern Conference Coach of the Month award. And it’s unorthodox decisions such as the ones he made on Sunday night that are paying off and leading to wins.
Question: What do you think of the job Kidd has done?
In case you missed it: "Joe Jesus" delivered again, while Andrei Kirilenko got hurt -- again.
Where they stand: The Nets (37-31) are 1 1/2 games behind the Toronto Raptors (39-30) for first place in the Atlantic Division and one game behind the Chicago Bulls (39-31) for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff standings.
Up next: The Nets face the New Orleans Hornets in the second game of a back-to-back set on Monday night at Smoothie King Arena.