Jason Kidd has been here before in his first season as coach of the Mavericks, down 1-0 in a third consecutive NBA playoff series.
The Bay Area native is looking for another bounce-back from Luka Doncic and company in his first trip to the conference finals as a coach, which just happened to start in San Francisco.
Kidd is guiding the franchise that was his first home away from home nearly 30 years ago, and is this deep in the postseason for the first time since Kidd was the point guard on the Dirk Nowitzki-led team that won the 2011 title.
“There’s a team out there that’s won a championship starting the same way, losing the first game,” Kidd said after Wednesday’s 112-87 loss to Golden State in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. Game 2 is Friday night.
Kidd has kept the conversations on championships since replacing his coach from that 2011 title year, Rick Carlisle. In this case, he could have been referring to those Mavs, who beat Miami in six games after losing the opener.
With a steady hand as the coach, Kidd has helped Dallas rally from a 16-18 start to finish in the top four in the West for the first time since 2011.
The Mavericks started the playoffs without Doncic following Kidd’s questionable decision to keep him in a regular-season finale that had clearly become meaningless before the young superstar strained his left calf.
Kidd rejected the idea that he should have pulled Doncic, then the Mavericks won their second game without their All-Star against Utah and did it again when the first-round series moved to Salt Lake City. Dallas eliminated the Jazz in six games, with Doncic returning for the final three.
After losing the first two games at top-seeded Phoenix, neither of which was particularly close, Dallas won four of the last five, capped by a 33-point Game 7 victory. It was the only victory for the road team in the series.
“Coach did a good job of getting everybody to buy in,” Dorian Finney-Smith said. “He’s the only person in the locker room who’s been in this situation. He’s always got a cool, calm, collected attitude, and I think we take that from him.”
Kidd has acknowledged learning lessons from taking a hard-charging approach to his second job as a head coach in Milwaukee, where he was fired in the middle of his fourth season after the Bucks gave up draft picks to get him from Brooklyn.
There was an unflattering anecdote in a book about Giannis Antetokounmpo released shortly after the Bucks won the title last year, describing a grueling practice on Christmas Eve when Kidd was upset over a loss.
Dallas guard Sterling Brown, who played for Kidd in Milwaukee, has suggested his current teammates are seeing a different version of Kidd. What matters most, of course, is his relationship with Doncic – which appears to be all good so far.
“I think we’re a way better team now,” Doncic said during the season. “He’s been great for us. He communicates with the players. He’s just been great, helping not just me but everybody, just to see a better picture.”
The picture has developed into the best one in a decade for a franchise still led by a European star. Doncic, from Slovenia, is a year ahead of Nowitzki (Germany) in getting to the conference finals — both in age (23 vs. 24) and seasons (four vs. five).
Kidd, drafted second overall by Dallas in 1994 before getting traded 2 1/2 years later and returning to win his only title, reached the NBA Finals with each of the three teams he went this far with during a Hall of Fame playing career.
To do it again, his team will have to beat coach Steve Kerr and Warriors superstar Stephen Curry, both of whom faced Kidd on the court.
“The way he conducted his teams from that point guard spot, coaching seemed like a perfect fit,” said Kerr, whose final season as a player was with San Antonio when the Spurs beat Kidd and the Nets in the 2003 NBA Finals. “But you never know; a lot of superstars don’t go into coaching. I’m glad he went down this path. He’s done an amazing job with Dallas.”
Curry’s overlap with Kidd was four years, capped by Kidd’s final season as a player with the New York Knicks in 2012-13.
“My favorite memory of him is all the reactions and mannerisms he had when he was on the bench in New York and I was going off,” Curry said.
Kidd wasted no time getting into coaching, joining Brooklyn immediately upon retiring and leading the Nets to the second round in 2014. He couldn’t repeat that with the Bucks, losing in the first round twice.
“I love the chess aspect of the game,” Kidd said. “I love the mental aspect of the game. I love helping players achieve their goals — financially or winning. As a player, I played to win. As a coach, you play to win. Your impact is a little bit less, but you’re here to help guide the guys to achieve their goal.”
His Mavericks will have to dig out of another hole to do it.