- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 25, 2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Before there was a celebration, there was an almighty hush. Jason Kidd lay on the court grabbing his right ankle, a towel stuffed in his mouth to help him fight the pain.

Amazingly, Kidd didn’t miss a second. He got up and scored eight points in a 13-1 fourth-quarter run that put the game away and led the New Jersey Nets back to the NBA Finals.

Kidd, his ankle only twisted, finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists last night as the older, wiser and better Nets successfully defended their Eastern Conference title with a 102-82 victory to complete a sweep of the Detroit Pistons.

“I’m nervous. Our best player’s on the floor,” coach Byron Scott said. “But I also know he’s one of our toughest players.

“He’s going to be sore for the next three, four days. It’s good this series is over. After he got hurt and came back, for some reason our guys had a lift. He came back in the game and the crowd went crazy, and the guys pretty much fed off that, and we went on an unbelievable run.”

The Nets, who had five days off between their sweep of Boston and the start of the Detroit series, will have 10 days to prepare for the start of the NBA Finals on June 4. They will play either San Antonio or Dallas, who resume their Western Conference final series Sunday with the Spurs leading 2-1.

The Nets made the NBA Finals in a surprising season a year ago, but were swept by the Los Angeles Lakers.

“This year, unlike last year, we’re not just happy to get there,” Scott said. “We feel we can win a championship with what we have right here. That one-hit wonder stuff is gone. We have something special here.”

The Nets have won 10 consecutive playoff games, the fourth-longest single-season playoff streak in NBA history, behind the 1999 Spurs (12), the 2000 Lakers (11), and the 1989 Lakers (11). The all-time winning streak is 13 by the Lakers, spanning the 1988 and ‘89 seasons.

“We just ran into a Nets team that is like a steamroller right now,” Detroit coach Rick Carlisle said. “Our undoing in this series was letting the first two games get away. We were in a position to win both, and Kenyon Martin and Jason Kidd simply would not let them lose those games.”

Martin had 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Nets, but it was the Kidd-led fastbreak that again put its stamp on the game. The Nets outscored the Pistons 19-0 in transition ? and 94-15 for the series.

“Get back on defense,” said Carlisle, asked what advice he would give the Western Conference champion.

The victory came one day after the New Jersey Devils, the Nets’ co-tenants in the Continental Airlines Arena, advanced to the Stanley Cup finals. It’s the first time two teams who share the same building have advanced to the NBA and Stanley Cup finals in the same year since New York’s Knicks and Rangers in 1994.

Clifford Robinson scored 21 points, and Richard Hamilton, Detroit’s only reliable scoring threat in the series, had 20 for the Pistons.

As in Game 3, the Nets took the lead for good in the first quarter although this time things got uncomfortably close early in the fourth quarter — especially when it appeared Kidd might have a serious injury.

The Pistons, showing the heart they lacked in the second half of Game 3, cut a 15-point third-quarter to six on Clifford Robinson’s 3-pointer with 9:29 to play.

Then came the scare: Kidd twisted his ankle grabbing the rebound off Hamilton’s missed jumper with 6:59 to play. Kidd’s right foot landed awkwardly on Ben Wallace’s right foot, and the New Jersey point guard had a towel stuffed in his mouth to fight the pain as he lay on the court with the crowd chanting “M-V-P.”

“It got my heart pumping faster,” Kidd said. “Once I knew I could stand up, I was all right. … I tried to keep my composure. I took some deep breaths, some Lamaze techniques. When I could stand up on my own, I knew I could continue. That was my one and only goal, to see if I could walk to the bench.”

Scott called a timeout, and asked Kidd if backup Anthony Johnson should enter the game.

“He said, ‘No.’ I also knew then we’d better win this game — so we can get some rest,” Scott said.

With 5:27 to go, Kidd started his own personal 8-1 run by getting free on a screen to hit a 17-foot jumper that made it 90-74. The series was over. He left to a standing ovation and a hug from Martin — and more chants of “M-V-P” ? with the score 96-75 with three minutes left.

“We’re going back,” Martin told Kidd as they hugged. “We’re going back. We’re not going to lose this year.”

The Nets, as they have all series, had big advantages in rebounds — 51-27 — and points in the paint — 50-26.

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