- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 1, 2002

BOSTON This is no joke: The former laughingstocks of the Eastern Conference are going to the NBA Finals.

Jason Kidd became the first player in 35 years to record three triple-doubles in an NBA playoff series as the New Jersey Nets finished off the Boston Celtics and their disappearing duo of superstars with a 96-88 victory last night in Game 6 of the conference finals.

A franchise whose existence had been marked by poor management, bad personnel moves and fan apathy now has a chance to take its total turnaround even one step further.

"I would love to win a championship," Kidd said. "Maybe then there won't be any critics or doubters."

Doubters were easy to find last summer when the Nets acquired Kidd and he boldly predicted that the perpetually downtrodden franchise would be able to win 40 games. People are now shaking their heads at the Nets for a different reason, giving grudging admiration to a franchise that won two ABA titles but only one NBA playoff series before this year.

Majority owner Lewis Katz sat in the trainer's room after the game, holding the conference championship trophy and posing for photos with his players. Team president Rod Thorn said the franchise's sorry history can finally take a back seat to its present.

"Everybody talks about the jinx of Dr.J [Julius Erving] like it's the Babe Ruth thing in Boston, but my feeling was that if we got the right group of people we'd have a chance to win," Thorn said.

Kidd finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists to join Oscar Robertson (1963) and Wilt Chamberlain (1967) as the only players with three triple-doubles in a playoff series. He is the first player since Magic Johnson in 1991 to average a triple-double in a best-of-7 series.

Kidd all but clinched the game with 33.9 seconds left, blowing two kisses to his family just as he always does when he shoots foul shots and knocking down two free throws for a 96-88 lead.

Kenyon Martin took his shirt off and jumped into the arms of a teammate as the final buzzer sounded, but the rest of the team didn't celebrate all that much.

"I've got a little more class than to jump on their table," Martin said. "My celebration was enough."

The Nets will open the NBA Finals on Wednesday night, going for the franchise's first championship since Erving and the then-New York Nets defeated the Denver Nuggets in the 1976 ABA Finals.

The Celtics, meanwhile, head into their offseason wondering what happened to Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker down the stretch. Walker went scoreless in the fourth quarter, and Pierce did not score again after making a 3-pointer with 11:10 remaining.

For the first time in this year's playoffs, neither Pierce nor Walker led the team in scoring. That distinction went to ex-Net Kenny Anderson, whose 18 points weren't enough with Walker scoring 16, going 1-for-9 from 3-point range, and Pierce getting only 14.

"They went to a 2-3 zone and a box-and-one in the fourth and it was tough for us to score," Walker said. "They took away our options. That was a good call by them."

Martin had 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists for the Nets, while rookie Richard Jefferson scored 15 points, Lucious Harris had 12 and Keith Van Horn and Todd MacCulloch each added 11.

Van Horn hit a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired with 50 seconds remaining, giving New Jersey a 94-88 lead. Walker and Pierce each missed 3-pointers on the Celtics' next two possessions, leading to the foul shots by Kidd that all but sealed it.

The Nets were the more poised team over the final 12 minutes, bringing a fitting finish to a series that New Jersey controlled most of the time.

Kidd got his third triple-double when he passed for his 10th assist with 6:44 remaining, hitting Harris on a backdoor cut for a layup that gave the Nets a 79-74 lead.

Walker jacked up two 3-point shots in a span of eight seconds on Boston's next possession, missing both, and Kidd got his 11th assist by finding Aaron Williams for a layup that turned into a three-point play for an 82-74 lead.

After Boston cut it to 89-86, Walker came up with a steal and was fouled. But Walker missed both free throws and Martin was fouled on the rebound. His two foul shots were good, and the Nets were back up by five.

Moments later, they were champions of the East.

"There's nothing we can do about the past," Van Horn said. "In the past we didn't have this quality of a team."

The Celtics again got off to a terrible start, falling behind by double digits less than four minutes into the game. The difference this time was that they were able to recover, closing the first quarter with a 25-7 run to lead 28-21.

New Jersey scored the first eight points of the second quarter, and the game stayed close until Anderson took over in the final 3½ minutes of the half. He used his quickness to get inside for three layups as Boston ended the first half with a 14-4 run for a 54-44 lead.

The Celtics held the lead for almost the entire third quarter, with New Jersey taking a 70-69 lead on two free throws by Martin 12.9 seconds left. Boston was unable to get a shot off on its final possession of the quarter, and the FleetCenter fell strangely silent after the period came to a close.

Pierce, Walker and Anderson each picked up their fourth fouls in the first three minutes of the fourth as New Jersey was opening the quarter with a 12-5 run. Walker eventually fouled out with 33.9 seconds remaining, appearing close to tears as he watched the Nets finish things off.

Notes Kidd's wife and son did not attend the game. "I guess Jason and Joumana thought it would be best for her not to be here," Nets coach Byron Scott said. The fans booed Kidd every time be touched the ball, but there were no derogatory chants as there were in Game 4.

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