NEW YORK – The collective age of the New York Knicks has been a running joke all season. And all season, head coach Mike Woodson has continued to preach the value of experience.
With age you often get injuries. And the Knicks have certainly paid a price for going the old-man route. A 40-year-old Kurt Thomas couldn’t hold up. A 38-year-old Rasheed Wallace has retired. A 39-year-old Marcus Camby has played just 10 games over the last three months. And 35-year-old rookie Pablo Prigioni went down with a sprained ankle in the last game of the regular season.
But there are still a couple of old heads still standing in New York. Their names are Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin. They terrorized the Knicks in a playoff series nine years ago, and they each played a big role in New York’s Game 1 victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday.
Kidd played 35 minutes off the bench, filling the boxscore with eight points, five rebounds, three assists, and three steals. Martin was the only reserve big man Woodson used, coming through with 10 points, nine boards, a steal and two blocks.
Those contributions were desperately needed. With Prigioni out, 29-year-old rookie Chris Copeland (yes, the Knicks are so old, their two rookies are 29 and 35 years old) got his 14th start of the season and wasn’t up to the task. And with Steve Novak unable to get a shot and getting picked on defensively, the Knicks needed Kidd to fill in at one of the wings for 30 minutes, in addition to his back-up point guard duty.
Meanwhile, Tyson Chandler tried playing his first game in the last two weeks and couldn’t make much of an impact on either end of the floor. So Martin was asked to play big minutes at center.
It’s not a coincidence that the Knicks’ defense was much better in the second half, when Kidd played 21 of his 35 minutes and Martin played 18 of his 28. Martin anchored the paint, while Kidd seemingly got his hands on the ball whenever the Knicks came near him. All three of his steals came with the game on the line in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter.
With 4:52 left, Kidd deflected a Jeff Green pass, dove on the floor and started a New York fast break. With 2:21 left and the Celtics still within five, he sniffed out a back-screen play Boston had run for a game-winner in early March, helped from the weak side, and stripped Green under the basket. And with 34 seconds left, he stripped Kevin Garnett on a mismatch in the post.
His feet may not move like they used to, but Kidd’s hands are still quick and strong, and his mind is sharper than ever.
“He beats everyone with his brain,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said afterward. “If you think quicker than a guy can move, you’re still quicker. That’s why he’s there first, because he thought what the guy was going to do before he did it. He’s just a valuable player to have on a basketball team.”
Kidd and Martin have each had their moments over the last six months. And from Day 1, it’s been easy to see Kidd’s influence on Carmelo Anthony‘s game this season. But this is the playoffs. This is why these guys are here and why Woodson has remained adamant that the veterans are critical to his team’s success.
“To me, it’s a plus to have veteran guys,” Woodson said. “That is no knock on the young kids. To have these veteran guys step up and still make a contribution to your team is major.”
After one playoff game, Woodson is looking pretty smart.