Jason Kidd serves as clutch Kobe stopper

LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant scoffed when it was suggested that Jason Kidd’s defense had something to do with his clutch failure in Game 1.

“No,” Bryant said with a chuckle.

Kobe is kidding himself if he truly believes that. The 38-year-old Kidd deserves credit for a dominant defensive effort against one of the most dangerous scorers in NBA history in the final few minutes of the Mavericks’ stunning 96-94 win Monday night.

The Mavs don't win this game -- and make the statement that the Lakers are in for a long series -- without Kidd's guts and guile with the game on the line.

Consider the facts: The Lakers went to Bryant five times in the final three minutes. They got two points and two turnovers out of those possessions. That included the 3-pointer that bounced off the back rim at the buzzer.

“When he shot it, I didn’t look,” Kidd said. “I was going to listen to the crowd.”

All he heard was stunned silence in the Staples Center. Well, except for Mark Cuban and the rest of the men on the Mavs’ bench screaming like crazy.

They had just witnessed a phenomenal display of crunch time Kobe-stopping by Kidd.

"That looked like a young Jason Kidd out there," said Mavs big man Tyson Chandler, who came up with two crucial blocks in the final 4:01.

Kidd, whose seven points and 11 assists indicate only a fraction on his impact, embraced the seemingly impossible assignment of cooling off a red-hot Kobe. Bryant scored 21 of his 36 points in the second half, but he fizzled with Kidd in his face during winning time.

Bryant’s 11-foot jumper over Kidd with 1:00 remaining accounted for the Lakers’ lone points in the last 3:30, when the Mavs completed an amazing comeback from what was a 16-point deficit in the third quarter.

Bryant missed from 19 feet with Kidd’s hand in his face. Bryant made a bad pass under pressure from Kidd. Kidd beat Bryant to a loose ball with 3.1 seconds left, knocking the man known as Black Mamba off balance while they were chasing the poor pass from Pau Gasol. And he fought through a screen to make Kobe work like crazy to get enough space to simply catch the ball before launching the contested would-be game-winner at the buzzer.

“He’s one of the few guys that can put together some individual defensive possessions like that,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “We try to keep him out of those situations as much as possible because they take a lot of energy. We try to get other guys guarding Bryant through the other parts of the game. Down the stretch, he’s as knowledgeable and as experienced as anybody who has ever played.”

Kidd, perhaps not wanting to give a man with five rings any potential motivational fodder, downplayed his defensive effort down the stretch.

With an aw-shucks tone, Kidd talked about all of Kobe’s game-winners he witnessed “up close and personal” during his days with the Suns. He said he was a “small guy” who couldn’t keep Kobe from getting his shots off. According to Kidd, all he can do is try to make it tough and hope Kobe misses.

Don’t believe a word of that. If Kidd didn’t believe he could stop Kobe, why did he request a chance to finish the job when the coaches considered giving Shawn Marion the assignment for the final possession?

“I’m a competitor,” Kidd said. “Maybe it’s being old, too, being hard-headed and na├»ve and thinking I can slow him down.”

The hard-headed one is Kobe, for refusing to give Kidd the credit he’s due.