Tuesday, March 23, 2010 Updated: March 24, 2:34 PM ET
On birthday, Kidd delivers present
By Tim MacMahon ESPNDallas.com
DALLAS -- Maybe Jason Kidd just gets better with age. He certainly celebrated his 37th birthday with a bang.
Kidd simply carried the Dallas Mavericks to a 106-96 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night, when fellow All-Star Dirk Nowitzki watched almost all of the second half from the locker room after getting ejected.
The point guard and future Hall of Famer stuffed the box score with a season-high 26 points, 12 assists and six rebounds. However, it wouldn't be accurate to describe the all-around display as a vintage Kidd performance. The guy couldn't shoot the ball like this until the gray crept into his close-cropped hair.
Dirk Nowitzki left the court after being ejected for the third time in his NBA career, but Jason Kidd picked up the scoring slack.
While some of his athletic skills have diminished over the years, Kidd has worked to turn his biggest weakness into a strength. The proof is in his 3-point percentage, which is a career-best .418 this season.
Kidd's perimeter shooting -- a season-high six made 3-pointers on 11 attempts -- played a major role in slamming the door on the pesky Clippers. He knocked down three long-distance jumpers during a 22-3 run to open the fourth quarter, a span in which Dallas turned a one-point deficit into a lopsided lead.
"I was out there gunning," Kidd said, cracking a smile. "Since Dirk was gone, I thought I'd play Dirk today. I didn't want a bad birthday. I was going to take the blame if we lost this game."
During that run, Kidd absolutely dominated while playing point forward in a small-ball lineup that also featured guards Jason Terry and Rodrigue Beaubois, scoring 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting; he had three assists -- highlighted by a beautiful backdoor lob to Beaubois on the opening possession -- and three rebounds during the stretch of 5:40. He also had one steal and a few deflections, pumping energy into the Mavs' zone defense.
It was a classic case of Kidd taking over to change the course of a game.
"What more can you say about Jason Kidd?" coach Rick Carlisle said. "He again, I thought, willed the team with just his energy, his enthusiasm."
Added big man Brendan Haywood with a sense of awe: "He's just the ageless wonder."
Actually, Kidd's age is discussed much more often than his other statistics these days, even though Kidd joins Utah Jazz legend John Stockton as the only player to rank among the top five in NBA history in assists and steals. (More evidence that Kidd hasn't slowed down too much: Boston's Rajon Rondo and Kidd are the only two players to rank among the top five in those categories this season.)
When Mark Cuban pulled the trigger on the blockbuster trade to bring Kidd back to Dallas more than a decade after Kidd's original stint with the Mavs ended, folks bemoaned the fact that Devin Harris was a decade younger. The criticism intensified when the Mavs failed to win a playoff series that season, and became even louder when Harris developed into an All-Star the following year.
Funny, but you don't hear much about Harris around these parts now that his New Jersey Nets are trying to avoid NBA infamy and Kidd's Mavs are tied for second in the Western Conference.
"You can't teach what he brings to the game," Terry said. "It's just phenomenal. It comes from within. Guys like us feed off it, and we kind of just bow down and praise him. He's great. Not good, but great."
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Kidd's age was an issue to a lot of people again last summer, when the Mavs re-signed him to a three-year deal.
That looks like a wise move at the moment. Kidd's calm, cool presence in the clutch has allowed the Mavs to be an elite team in tight games, with their 9-2 record in contests decided by five or fewer points representing the NBA's best winning percentage in such situations. His fingerprints were all over the Mavs' 13-game winning streak, when he played his best basketball since returning to Dallas while running a team that is fitting in two major new pieces on the fly.
Like the rest of the Mavs, Kidd didn't play so well while they lost three of the next four games. But his performance against the Clippers ought to hush any questions about whether his old legs have enough juice left in them to finish the season strong.
"He's tireless," Cuban said. "People talk about age, but it's not like he's a high flyer. He uses his brain. He's more of a chess master. Those guys can play until they're 80."
NBA rules prevent Cuban from offering Kidd a 40-year contract extension, which would have been a heck of a birthday present for the old guy.
Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.