MILWAUKEE (AP) -- In the arena formerly home to Milwaukee's "Big
Three,'' the New Jersey Nets advanced to the second round of the
playoffs behind their own awesome trio -- Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin
and Richard Jefferson.
The Nets beat the Milwaukee Bucks 113-101 Thursday night to
close out their best-of-seven series 4-2 behind Kidd's
triple-double, Martin's 29 points and Jefferson's 16.
"This is the time of year you want your three best playing at
their very best,'' Nets coach Byron Scott said. "And we've got
three guys in Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson that
are playing exceptional basketball right now.
"If they can keep this pace up and keep playing this way, it's
going to be hard to beat us.''
Kidd had 22 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds as the Nets
advanced to the second round, where they'll play the Boston Celtics
beginning Monday night.
Scott said Jefferson and Martin "have arrived.''
"Those guys are going to continue to get better and we have a
point guard that's the best in this league,'' Scott said. "As far
as a 1-2-3 punch, those guys are the very best.''
The Bucks had their own trio of stars until they broke up the
team, shipping Glenn Robinson to Atlanta before the season and Ray
Allen to Seattle 2½ months ago.
That left only Sam Cassell, who had one of the worst playoff
performances of his career Thursday night, managing just four shots
and five points as the Bucks trailed by as many as 22.
Milwaukee was down 88-70 heading into the fourth quarter, and
the best the Bucks could do from there was cut their deficit in
half -- 99-90 on a basket by Gary Payton with 5½ minutes left.
But Martin, who picked up his fifth foul and took a seat early
in the fourth quarter, had two crucial offensive rebounds on one
possession, dishing to Kerry Kittles for a 3-pointer to make it 102-90 with 4:37 remaining.
"I wasn't going to play timid even though I had five fouls,''
Martin said. "And Kerry made a huge shot for us.''
The Bucks were left to wonder if they'd played their last game
with Payton, the All-Star point guard they acquired from Seattle on
Feb. 20 in the blockbuster trade for Allen.
Payton, who will be a free agent this summer, led the Bucks with
24 points and Michael Redd broke out of his series-long funk with
Payton said he was going to ponder his future in a month or two.
"This series doesn't affect me at all,'' he said.
But the 13-year veteran desperately desires a championship, and
the chance at a title will be paramount in his decision.
"I want to get back to where I was in '96 and get to a
championship and it's going to play a big factor,'' Payton said.
"It's going to be hard. I'm going to take my time and make the
right decision. It's going to be my last decision.''
If he elects to play elsewhere next season, the Bucks hope they
can at least get something for Payton by doing a sign-and-trade deal.
"My first choice would be to get Gary back and build the team
around Payton and some of our young guys,'' Bucks coach George Karl
said. "But if we have to go another way, there's still a lot of
hope here, there's a lot of good young players. It's a good
interesting basketball team that has a lot of danger to it.''
But not on this night.
The Nets took a 56-44 lead behind Martin's 15 first-half points,
and the Bucks' unraveling continued in the opening minutes of the
third quarter, when New Jersey opened the second half on a 12-3 run
that included a free throw by Kidd after Cassell was whistled for a
technical foul for arguing -- after he'd drawn a whistle on Kittles.
The Bucks trailed 52-44 and had a chance to whittle the deficit
even further when Thomas was whistled for an iffy charge on Kidd,
who was still moving into position when he drew the call with 20.6
seconds left before halftime.
Kidd then sank a jumper over Payton with 3.6 seconds on the
clock, then stole Toni Kukoc's inbounds lob near midcourt and raced
in for a layup at the buzzer that gave the Nets a 56-44 halftime
"I was just playing free safety,'' Kidd said. "My second love
is football, so I just tried to intercept it.''
The play deflated the Bucks.
"If we score, we cut it to six. And they knock it up for 12,''
Karl said. "I think that gave them a lot of hope, a lot of
The Bucks were outrebounded 46-29, but that came as no
surprise to Milwaukee guard Michael Redd. "All season long
rebounding has been our Achilles' heel,'' he said. ... Karl fell to
22-13 in his career when facing elimination, including 16-5 at
home. ... The Nets have won two other playoff series on the road,
at Philadelphia in 1984 and at Boston last year.