With Kidd off-target, Nets have no shot

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New Jersey Nets needed a signature Jason Kidd performance in the worst way on Sunday night. Thanks to Richard Jefferson, they got one.

In recording a 30-point, eight-rebound, five-assist night, Jefferson grabbed key defensive boards like Kidd and kept the ball in his hands to start the fastbreak like the Nets' all-world point guard. Jefferson also came through with buckets when the Nets needed them most while the Pistons whittled a lead that had ballooned to as much as 21 points to just eight early in the second half.

While an impersonation of Kidd was enough to reduce Detroit's series lead to 2-1 with an 82-64 victory, the Nets will need the real thing at some point. The scoring Kidd will have to show up and join the passing and rebounding Kidd if New Jersey is to continue its pursuit of a third straight Eastern Conference championship.

First and foremost, Kidd will have to rummage through Continental Airlines Arena's lost-and-found bin for the jump shot that wasn't always reliable but was often deadly in decisive moments the last two playoff runs, namely in Game 1 of last year's Detroit series when Kidd beat the buzzer and the Pistons on the road.

On Sunday, Kidd suffered through another dreadful shooting display. He missed 12 of 14 attempts from the field to drop his series field-goal percentage from .269 to .225, and with only five points, he is now averaging a mediocre 7.3 points a game against Detroit.

"Hopefully, he gets his rhythm going and I think he will," Kerry Kittles said. "It's just a couple of games. ... He'll figure it out."

"Do not be misled by Jason Kidd's stat line," said Nets head coach Lawrence Frank, preferring to look at Kidd's seven rebounds, 12 assists and just two turnovers. "The guy was off the charts, OK? He controlled the game on both ends. Throw out stats -- they mean nothing to this guy. That's why he's first-team [All-NBA] and an MVP candidate every year."

Problem is, the Nets won back-to-back East titles with Kidd taking and making the big shots.

He was New Jersey's top scorer during its 2002 postseason breakthrough at 19.6 points a game. Last year, Kidd averaged a team-best 20.1 points in the playoffs, including a team-leading 19.7 in the Finals against San Antonio.

Perhaps it is true that Kidd no longer has to do everything for the Nets anymore because of Kenyon Martin's maturation into an All-Star and Jefferson's blossoming beyond a No. 3 option on offense. However, Kidd must break out of this current rut, in which he's posted outings of 4-for-13, 3-for-13 and now 2-for-14, for the Nets to get past the Pistons.

"When you've got guys playing the bulk of the minutes, you want them to play well," Lucious Harris said. "You want the bench to play well but you also want the starters to play well. Richard played a great game tonight (but) we need Jason to step up to finish the series out."

Also, Kidd's shoddy shooting won't quiet rumors that his cranky left knee, which forced him to rest at the end of the regular season, is barking again and limiting him from getting maximum lift on his jumper.

"Jason is not going to tell you he's hurt," Harris added. "Sometimes you can see it, sometimes you don't. But Jason is a warrior. He's going to come out there and play and play as hard as he can."

Frank lightened Kidd's workload somewhat on Sunday, at least mentally, by taking him out of a point guard duel with Chauncey Billups and assigning him Pistons off guard Richard Hamilton. Chasing Hamilton through screens isn't exactly a party, either, but at least Kidd didn't have to ponder how many points Billups was piling up on the other end like he did in Friday's Game 2 Pistons rout highlighted by 28-point nights from Billups and Hamilton.

Billups actually shot the ball worse than Kidd in Game 3, making only one of his 10 shots for two points. In assessing his counterpart's struggles, Billups even admitted that Kidd's equally horrid shooting could be seen as a positive for the Nets.

"He played a great game but he didn't shoot the ball well," Billups said. "But with the way they won and [the way] he shot 2-for-14, that has to give them a lot of confidence."

"I thought I was going pretty well," said Kidd, taking a playful shot at himself for his off-target effort. "I made one and then I took a whole lot inbetween there and made one off the glass. ... As a point guard, and the way I play, it's not so much in the points. I take shots when they present themselves. My job was to get the ball to No. 24 tonight."

And No. 24 (Jefferson) scored just like No. 5 (Kidd) used to do.

Joe Lago is the NBA editor for ESPN.com.