Even Anthony Likes Offense to Go Through Kidd
The moment said a lot about Carmelo Anthony and Jason Kidd.
Anthony was heroic in Sunday’s game at Madison Square Garden, leading the Knicks to a 112-106 victory over the Denver Nuggets with a game-high 34 points. Fans cheered at the buzzer because Anthony’s return to the team, after two games out with a finger injury, played a vital part in the team’s success.
Immediately after the game, though, Anthony wanted to find Kidd, who had scored half as many points but who Anthony knew had had just as big an effect on the game. Anthony went over to Kidd to hug him and say “thank you.”
That signified just how much Anthony, the Knicks’ best player, values having Kidd as a teammate.
“I think it’s huge,” Kidd said of what it meant to receive the hug. “I think he trusts me coming down the stretch.”
Anthony put his faith in Kidd when the Knicks trailed the Nuggets early in the fourth quarter. During a timeout, Coach Mike Woodson wanted Anthony to be the focal point of the team’s offense. Anthony had a different idea.
“He told me, ‘Let’s play through you,’ ” Kidd said. “Coach wanted to play through Carmelo, but Carmelo was like, ‘No, I want to play through Jason.’ I think that’s the greatest compliment a teammate can get.”
Kidd, 39, is the third-oldest player in the N.B.A. behind his teammate Kurt Thomas and Grant Hill of the Los Angeles Clippers, who are both 40. Yet Kidd is one of the biggest reasons the Knicks are 15-5 and atop the Eastern Conference standings. Sunday’s game was a prime example of Kidd’s influence.
Regardless of his 17 points against the Nuggets, the plays that led the Knicks to the victory were the ones in which he did not score. When he entered the game with 10 minutes 32 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Knicks trailed, 88-83.
Kidd played a role in the Knicks’ next 18 points: an assist on Steve Novak’s 3-pointer, an assist on Tyson Chandler’s dunk, a rebound of J. R. Smith’s long 3-point miss over two Nuggets and a pass to a wide-open Ronnie Brewer for a layup, a transition pass that led to two made free throws by Brewer, an assist on Anthony’s midrange jumper, an assist on Anthony’s 3-pointer, an assist on Chandler’s alley-oop dunk and a driving layup of his own.
When Kidd’s run was over, the Knicks had a 101-95 lead.
“He had an unbelievable night,” Chandler said of Kidd. “I just know he’s going to make the right decision. He’s always going to take the right shot or put the person who needs to take the shot in the right position.”
Because of his age and two odd plays, Kidd has also built camaraderie with his teammates by being the subject of their jokes this season.
Kidd has been hit in the head twice by opponents who have landed on him after he pump faked. In the Knicks’ win over the Indiana Pacers, Lance Stephenson’s teeth cut Kidd’s head, which forced him to wear a headband — a look teammates said they found silly — to keep the bandage on his head from falling off.
A similar play happened Sunday in the second quarter when the Nuggets’ Ty Lawson head-butted Kidd. Novak and others found some hockey helmets lying around in the Rangers’ locker room, next to the Knicks’. Kidd smiled as he wore the helmet during warm-ups for the second half.
“They’re not using them right now,” Kidd said jokingly as the N.H.L. lockout continues. “I needed something to keep the swelling down because my teammates were killing me about how big my head was getting. That was the only thing we can think of.”
After the game, Kidd entered the Knicks’ locker room wearing the helmet again. It made Novak and Anthony laugh again.
“I think he retired the headband, so we went and got the hockey helmet,” Novak said. “It looked good on him.”
Sunday was the first time this season that Kidd had extensive minutes at point guard. Woodson’s adjustment allowed Raymond Felton, who was struggling with a left thumb injury, to rest.
No matter where Kidd has been on the court, he has helped the Knicks win. The Knicks have a plus-98 scoring differential with Kidd in the game.
“I’m just trying to help my guys win,” Kidd said. He added about late-game situations: “I just know that if we get a good look that we have a good chance of winning. When we move the ball, we always get a wide-open look.”
That is what happened Sunday.
Novak knows it is hard at times to quantify just how large an effect Kidd can have on a game. But Novak has noticed that he and the rest of the Knicks play with more confidence when Kidd is on the court.
“Everyone sees that he’s trying to get guys the ball,” Novak said. “He’s a special player.”