As Celtics and Mavs prepare for Game 2, Jason Kidd opts to play head games


BOSTON — It’s as though the NBA marketing people got together a couple of days back in order to mull this question: What can be done to bring an added layer of soap opera-level intrigue to this NBA Finals between the Celtics and Mavericks?

A hand went up in the conference room. One of the marketing whiz kids had an idea: “I got it! Let’s get out this storyline about a rivalry going on in the Celtics locker room between Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. We’ll get people to wondering if maybe they don’t like each other, that each guy thinks he’s the best player on the team. It’ll sell like hotcakes!”

Everyone else in the room: “Oh, come on, that one’s older than Al Horford. It’s been done.”

Marketing whiz kid: “But what if we can get the other head coach to say it?”

Everyone else in the room: “Ooooooooooh!”

GO DEEPER

Jason Kidd calls Jaylen Brown, not Tatum, the Celtics’ ‘best player’

Well, here we are. The Celtics, led by their best player, will be looking to take a 2-0 series lead when they host the Mavericks Sunday night at TD Garden. And their best player, in the opinion of Mavs coach Jason Kidd, is … Jaylen Brown!

Appearing at a scheduled media availability Saturday afternoon at TD Garden, Kidd did more than call Brown the Celtics’ best player. He twice called Brown the Celtics’ best player, just in case somebody missed it the first time around because they were tweeting out Kidd’s response to the previous question, something about Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving getting into the paint more in Game 2.

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Here’s the complete question and response:

Question: “What makes going against a guy like Jaylen so challenging?”

Kidd: “Well, Jaylen is their best player. Just looking at what he does defensively, he picked up Luka full court. He got to the free-throw line. He did everything, and that’s what your best player does. Just understanding he plays both sides, defense and offense, at a high rate. And he’s been doing that …”

And on it went like that. In the old days of the original Boston Garden, opposing coaches would complain about the dead spots on the parquet and how the late, great Red Auerbach, coach/general manager of the Celtics, allegedly would turn off the hot water in the visiting locker room. Or turn up the heat. Whatever. Here in the 21st century, with everyone Googling themselves and looking to see what everyone else is saying about them on social media, we have the opposing coach latching onto the Tatum/Brown debate with both hands.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Hollinger: If Mavs’ stars can’t beat Celtics 1-on-1, this series is over

Now it’s entirely possible Kidd had no such intentions in mind when he made the remark. It’s just that Kidd played in the NBA from 1994 to 2013, which means the Google machine was humming along quite nicely in the latter stage of his years in uniform. Additionally, he began his head coaching career in 2013. As much as anybody, he knows how social media works. Just as every coach in every sport knows how it works.

Bill Belichick, during his years as head coach of the New England Patriots, would have you believe he knew nothing about social media. Once, during the run-up to Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles, he answered someone’s question by saying, “What is that, on Your Face or whatever?”

Belichick, of course, was aware of anything involving his team that was ricocheting on social media.

In that spirit, it’s safe to say Red Auerbach would have appreciated what Jason Kidd was trying to do. What’s that, say something, do something, that might give a coach an edge? Let me amend Red’s reaction were he still around: Deep down, he’d have loved it. Remember, Auerbach was always dead set against the idea of an NBA team having “cheerleaders,” but then Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca bought the team and made a pilgrimage to Red’s home in Washington D.C. to ask for the Celtic patriarch’s blessings. One of the things they asked about was the concept of what would become the “Celtic Dancers.” Once they explained that the idea could be monetized as part of the in-game presentation, Red was all in.

So, yeah, Auerbach would have understood the idea of Kidd trying to play these head games, even if he doubted it would make much of a difference.

As for how Brown reacted to all this, it probably won’t surprise you that he mostly gave Kidd’s remark a good leaving alone.

“I don’t have no reaction,” Brown said. In response to a follow-up question about why Kidd would say that, Brown replied, “I don’t know. It’s a team game. We’re trying to focus on that, and, you know, everybody has their own opinions.”

And there was this exchange:

Question: One way to interpret Jason Kidd’s comments is trying to get a rivalry going that might hurt the team. Why do you think there’s a perception you guys are not happy to be teammates and share the ball and all that?

Brown: “I’m not sure. I’m not sure. But we’ve been just extremely focused on what our roles and our jobs are. We have all had to sacrifice. Jason (Kidd) has had to do that at the highest of levels, right, and I respect him and tip his cap for it. Right now, at this point, it’s whatever it takes to win and we can’t let any outside interpretations try to get in between us.”

And if anyone expected an aggrieved Tatum to bring some indignity to the interview room … well, no.

“No reaction,” he said. “This is a team sport. We understand that. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have JB on our team, and we can say that for a lot of guys, right?  We have all played a part in getting to where we’re at, and we understand that people try to drive a wedge between us. I guess it’s a smart thing to do or try to do. We’ve been in this position for many years, of guys trying to divide us and say that one of us should be traded or one is better than the other. So it’s not our first time at the rodeo.”

Nor is it Jason Kidd’s. But the rodeo keeps evolving, and, really, for a long time now it has included saying things that might fly through the air and land inside an opposing player’s head.

And, it has been hoped, staying there.

(Photo: Garrett Ellwood / NBAE via Getty Images)



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