Prior to Tuesday’s Toronto Raptors game in Milwaukee, Paul Jones and I had a chance to chat with Bucks head coach Jason Kidd.
We spoke to the third-year coach – and former NBA champion – about Toronto’s growth over the last two years and what it takes to win and grow (especially in the playoffs).
Sportsnet: Coach, going back to two years ago – with Brooklyn and Toronto in the playoffs – have you seen a change in this Raptors team? Two years ago they were a defensive-minded team that couldn’t score and last year they could score but couldn’t stop anybody. They’re trying to find more of a balance this year.
Jason Kidd: I think as you get older you get wiser. They’ve been together. You can’t discount some of the playoff battles they’ve gone through, two years ago with Brooklyn, being able to be in difficult situations – and how do you handle them and how do you learn from them. And you can see, being one of the best teams – not just in the East, but in the NBA – they have some very talented pieces and they’re well coached. So you can see their growth.
Now the next step is making that next step in the playoffs.
SN: How tough is it to make that step? For you guys (the Bucks) to get there and for Toronto to get past that first round? You've been there. How do you make those marginal increases?
JK: It's hard because everybody has that same goal: Everybody wants to get to four [wins] first. And for that it becomes who is going to make the mistake at the wrong time and what x-factor is going to step up?
Your stars are going to be stars, but what x-factor is going to step up and shine in that moment? And when you talk about Brooklyn [two years ago] you talk about [Marcus] Thornton in that Game . He was the X-factor. He probably wasn't on the scouting report like Joe [Johnson] and Paul [Pierce] and D-Will [Deron Williams].
Then it comes down to the little things: Free throws, being able to capitalize and do the little things.
I think Toronto will be fine. They're going to grow and they're going to get out of that first round and they're going to be a threat in the Eastern Conference.
(Note: Thornton had 17 points – including 4-of-6 from three – off the bench in that Game 7 victory (104-103) for Brooklyn on May 4 2014).
SN: When you're trying to go from very good to great, what are some of the little things that make a difference? Things that the layman may not even notice that are important?
JK: Luck. Luck, the ball has to bounce your way.
This isn't meant as a 'shot' but when the shot clock wasn't working in Toronto, that was to our [Brooklyn's] advantage. We just felt that that was going to help us. Sometimes those things that don't have an affect [directly] on basketball, people will overlook, but those things can sometimes mess with you. The ball has to bounce your way.
(Note: The shot clocks – on both ends of the floor – malfunctioned halfway through the third quarter of Game 1. The back-up system failed as well. The final 18 minutes of the game were played with Herbie Kuhn, Toronto's public address announcer, essentially counting down every possession for both teams. The Nets would go on to win Game 1, 94-87).
SN: Is it the mental part of “those things” – when they happen – how you react to them?
JK: It's all mental. At the new season, it's all mental. Everybody, physically, could be tired or banged up, but it's a mental game. It becomes chess at a higher level. You tend to see the team that plays chess the best is the one who is holding the trophy.
I think you look at Toronto, they've got some very good chess players who have been through some battles and some heartache and that will only make them better going forward.