First, they needed Jason Kidd to rebound from his Game 1 debacle. Second, they needed to establish their fast-paced tempo by taking advantage of turnovers. And third, they needed to stop Tim Duncan's domination. They accomplished all three Friday night with a great performance that will give them a lot of confidence heading back to New Jersey for Game 3.
Kidd was simply phenomenal as he led the Nets with 30 points and seven rebounds. But Kidd's performance was great not just because of his statistics. It was because of his leadership, too. Time after time, he made big plays to stunt a Spurs' run. Kidd played a very heady game, his penetrations not only led to points for himself but for his teammates. When the defensive help for the Spurs came over, he was able to make quick passes to open teammates that led to easy layups.
Kidd also did a wonderful job of directing his team's fastbreak opportunities when they came. Though they only scored 13 fastbreak points, they didn't squander any opportunities when they presented themselves. But the reason that the Nets were able to get these chances is because of their aggressiveness in the passing lanes and their ability to disrupt the flow of the Spurs' offensive sets. They did a great job of getting their hands on the Spurs' passes and shots as they were going up.
A big reason for the disruption of the Spurs' sets was the way the Nets played Duncan. They did a wonderful job of showing him a variety of double-teams. Sometimes they doubled him off the dribble and others off the cutter. These variations confused the big guy and led him to make careless mistakes with the ball. It also enabled the Nets the chance to rotate quicker to open shooters since Duncan wasn't as quick with his passes out of the double teams.
But the X-factor in this game was Dikembe Mutombo. His 20 minutes gave the Nets a huge boost in energy and enthusiasm. Even though he only scored four points, it was his three blocks and countless shot alterations that gave the Spurs' slashers fits when they tried to take it to the basket. His appearance in this game and this series could be the turning point of the Finals. If he's able to consistently give the Nets that type of energy and dedication to defense for around 20 minutes a game, it will give the Spurs problems. Although Mutumbo isn't a direct factor in the offense, his blocking of shots enables the Nets' to set the fastbreak tempo that they thrive in.
The Nets showed a great deal of heart in this game and can go back to New Jersey not only with a win but with their heads held high.
Fred Carter is an NBA analyst for ESPN.