Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - There was 6:25 left in Game 1 Saturday when the Raptors tied the Nets at 73, leading some observers -- by which I mean me -- to wonder why halfway into the final quarter of a tense playoff game, Jason Kidd still was using mostly bench players.
Was starting point guard Deron Williams wondering the same thing from courtside as the backups teetered?
"I was just over there waiting patiently to go back in," he said Monday with a smirk that suggested maybe he was not all that patient at the time.
Sure enough, Kidd called timeout, sent in Williams, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in place of Marcus Thornton, Mirza Teletovic and Andray Blatche, and soon was leaving Air Canada Centre with a 94-87 victory in Game 1.
The episode illustrated a couple of points:
First, that Kidd knows what he is doing, even if he was a bit slow on the trigger in this instance, and second, that the nature of the Nets' roster presents a minefield of postseason decision-making for the first-year coach.
So long is the Nets' cast of relevant characters that useful veteran Andrei Kirilenko did not play, prompting his wife, Masha, to complain on Instagram and Kidd to remind reporters that 10 men did see significant action.
Such depth was a godsend during the regular season, a hedge against injuries and old age. But now that the team is in relative good health and back-to-back games are a thing of the past, it is a mixed blessing.
Well, I say it's a mixed blessing. Kidd did not agree after practice and before the return flight to Toronto on Monday.
"I love the team that I have," he said. "I love those guys in that locker room and I trust each and every one of them. So it's not a negative. It's a positive."
Said Pierce: "That's the beauty of this team. That's the strength of this team. We're 11 strong, very deep, one of the deepest teams talent-wise I've been on.
"That's the beauty of it. I think that's one of the reasons we've been able to withstand a lot of the injuries and be where we are now."
As in real life, options are a nice thing to have for a basketball coach, but they make matters more complicated.
Kidd could shorten his bench, as most coaches do come spring, or he could insist on sticking with a rotation that gets everyone involved, as he so far appears determined to do.
There are times that could work out nicely. There are others when it could open him up to second-guessers (and players' wives).
Williams insisted it's all good.
"We have trust in our teammates and trust in our coaching staff," he said. "I have been on some deep teams but I don't know if I've ever been on one this deep. We have a lot of guys who can play and deserve minutes. So we use that to our advantage."
For all the action the backups saw Saturday, they scored only 16 of the Nets' 94 points, an unusually low number. If the Nets are to advance well into the playoffs, that percentage will have to rise, and probably will.
"That's why we put this team together," said Alan Anderson, one of the backups. "This is going to be the whole team. It's not just going to be the starting five.
"We're going to need them to lead us, but we have to help them out also when they need a break . . . I think so far we've been doing a pretty good job of that. Saturday we had just a little letdown from the bench."
Tuesday is another day, and another chance for Kidd to solve a math problem that is more difficult -- and delicate -- than it looks.