Jason Kidd trying divide-and-conquer strategy vs. Celtics’ stars

BOSTON — It was more than a decade ago, the first and only season for Jason Kidd as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets.

He was a neophyte on the sideline back then, struggling to manage a grumpy point guard and a couple of aging-out Hall of Famers transplanted from Boston.

Kidd had a lot to learn.

Mavericks coach Jason Kidd David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

And he did over the years.

That’s why he’s coaching in the NBA Finals for the Mavericks, the third stop of his coaching career.

But you don’t have to learn instincts. They’re instinctual.

And Kidd is instinctually tactical, calculating. It was the same when he played.

Kidd was never the most athletic player but he found the angles.

So down the stretch of his 13th game, the former point guard told one of his own players, Tyshawn Taylor, “Hit me.” Taylor obliged by running into his coach, and Kidd’s soda cup spilled onto the Barclays Center court. Suddenly, there was a mess to clean up. You can’t play on wet hardwood. The action stopped. And Kidd used that time to talk to his team about the final nine seconds with a two-point deficit. He needed a timeout, didn’t have one, and found the angle.

Fast forward to Saturday and Kidd was throwing a verbal soda on the NBA Finals.

Asked about defending against Jaylen Brown, the Mavs coach made it a point to call him Boston’s best player — twice.

“Well, Jaylen’s their best player,” Kidd said. “So just looking at what he does defensively. He picked up Luka [Doncic] full court. Got to the free-throw line. He did everything — and that’s what your best player does. Just understanding he plays both sides, plays offense at a high rate. And he’s been doing that the whole playoffs. He was the Eastern Conference Finals MVP. And he picked up where he left off.”

Jayson Tatum Getty Images

This was no accident.

There’s long been debate around the Celtics about the hierarchy of the two best players, and, if anybody is No. 1, it is Jayson Tatum.

Not Brown. Tatum was First Team All-NBA this season.

Brown didn’t even make it to Third Team.

But the debate again hit a national stage recently when Brown was voted top player of the Eastern Conference Finals.

It became an indictment on Tatum, whose biggest knock on his rise to stardom has been folding in the biggest moments. He was a disaster in the NBA Finals two years ago, shooting just 36.7 percent and averaging fewer points than Brown.

Jaylen Brown David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

In Game 1, Tatum was just as inefficient while shooting 6 for 16 with just 16 points.

But he was picked up by Brown and Kristaps Porzingis.

Kidd was savvy enough Saturday to mention Brown is the Conference Finals MVP.

He knows what he’s doing.

Why not give their best players something else to think about, something other than team success?

Sow discord. Jealousy is never productive among teammates.

Mavericks coach Jason Kidd USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Tatum understands what’s going on.

It’s psychological warfare. Now everybody will be talking about Tatum vs. Brown instead of the way Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic struggled in Game 1.

“People try to drive a wedge between us,” Tatum said. “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 this rodeo.”

Asked how he and Brown have handled the “wedge” attempts, Tatum responded, “We’ve had conversations about it before. In all reality, we’ve just had to deal with it for a very long time,” Tatum said. “I think it’s part of us maturing as men, right? Very, very young coming into this league, and just had to deal with all the ups and downs of, essentially, the success that we’ve had. There’s been positive things and there’s been negative things that come with that.

“We are not the first duo to go through that process, and we won’t be the last. So understanding that side of it, and just keeping the main thing the main thing, and focusing on the job that we have in front of us.”

That’s the correct answer.

Brown was the same when presented with Kidd’s comment, saying, “It’s a team game and everybody has their own opinions.”

But it can’t hurt to try something different.

Perhaps Tatum will have the ball down the stretch in Sunday’s Game 2 and try to beat a double team instead of passing it to an open teammate.

Or maybe he jacks up a contested fadeaway 3-pointer on a pivotal possession because he needs to be the hero.

The Mavericks, after all, looked outmatched in Game 1, like a team much closer to getting swept than hoisting the championship trophy.

Difficult problems prompt creative solutions.

Like spilling soda on the floor.

That tactic in 2013 didn’t work, by the way. His fizzy plot went flat because the Nets still lost.

We’ll see if his latest maneuver makes a difference.

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