Jason Kidd coming up big in playoffs

DALLAS -- Ask Dallas Mavericks players and coaches for their one lasting impression of Jason Kidd and you get ... consternation?

"There's just too many," center Tyson Chandler said. "The thing that pops up in my mind is how he's been able to step up defensively and take on the youth."

Brendan Haywood: "He's had so many moments. The off-the-backboard pass to Shawn Marion in L.A. against the Clippers."

Marion: "I can't think of just one, but I can tell you he's fearless, man, both ends of the floor. The way he loves taking certain challenges, you've got to respect that."

Coach Rick Carlisle nailed his response as quickly as a Kidd pass deflection: "Atlanta. The technical."

The game was last season and the Mavs were in the midst of rallying from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit. The Hawks were up 97-95 as Kidd pushed the ball into the halfcourt near the sideline with less than 1:40 to play. He spotted then-Hawks coach Mike Woodson standing a few feet on the court and Kidd quickly shifted his momentum and bumped into the retreating Woodson.

The whistle blew. Technical foul, Woodson. Kidd then hit the go-ahead 3-pointer. The game went to overtime, Dallas won it and Kidd completed one of the more remarkable games of his time in Dallas -- if not of his career-- with a 19-point, 17-assist, 16-rebound triple-double.

"It speaks to a higher level of awareness, split-second thinking and phenomenal understanding of the situation," Carlisle said. "He's one of the most experienced and most resourceful players in NBA history. Nothing he does surprises me."

At 38 years, two months and five days, Kidd might not be surprising his coach, but his most productive postseason since being traded to Dallas in February 2008 certainly wasn't expected among Mavs fans who had seen the team twice ousted in the first round in the last three seasons.

Yet, it is the old man at the point, and not the next generation of Chris Paul or Deron Williams or Russell Westbrook, getting set to open the NBA Finals at the Miami Heat on Tuesday night. Kidd is four wins away from becoming the oldest starting point guard to win an NBA title.

"It's been a long journey," Kidd said. "We all expected things to happen a little bit quicker in the sense of maybe being a little more competitive and maybe being in the Finals. But patience is one thing and also just understanding the game of basketball can be very nice and also cruel at the same time. We're enjoying this moment, but we also have to try to find a way to win four more games."

Why did it take so long for Kidd and the Mavs to make it to the pinnacle, the sole goal when owner Mark Cuban shipped young Devin Harris to New Jersey for a then-34-year-old Kidd?

Dirk Nowitzki was a key proponent of the trade at a time when so much of the Mavs' offense under former coach Avery Johnson was predicated on Nowitzki scoring off isolation plays. Just get him the ball and let him go to work. Those were considered some of the poorest passing teams in the game.

Now the Mavs are widely considered the best, and excellent ball movement in the halfcourt could be their best ally against Miami's rugged defense.

"It just took him a little bit and then we had a coaching change, so I guess more than anything it took him a while to come into his own," Nowitzki said of Kidd. "Now I think him and Carlisle really play great off each other. Coach knows when to let J-Kidd do his own thing and call a bunch of plays in a row by himself and just be the floor general out there. It kind of took a while for the whole team to come together, and J-Kidd and Carlisle, as well."

Kidd is averaging 9.9 points, 7.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds. Perhaps most mouth-gaping about this playoff run is his defense. Kidd leads everyone with 33 steals in 15 games. Four more and he'll set a career playoff high, eclipsing his two NBA Finals runs nearly a decade ago.

His defense these days is drawing more praise than his passing. He has become Dallas' crunch-time defender on the game's top scorers. Kidd forced Kobe Bryant into bad shots and turnovers in Games 1 and 3 of the second-round series. He did the same guarding two-time scoring champ Kevin Durant in the Western Conference finals.

In the amazing Game 4 comeback, Kidd stripped Durant and then buried a go-ahead 3-pointer with 40 seconds to go in overtime.

How does Kidd do it?

Mavs massage therapist Gary "Fingers" Fineske might be the team's real MVP. About 90 minutes before tipoff, Fineske goes to work on every joint and muscle in the point guard's body.

"It's just a light rub where it gets my joints going," Kidd said. "It's just an overhaul of moving the body parts. It's almost like I'm being stretched, but it's just more or less to get the blood flowing. Then I get taped and I'm ready to go."

Fineske will have his work cut out in the NBA Finals. Kidd will need to be at his nimblest with the prospect of late-game duty guarding 6-foot-8 LeBron James.

"He can score, he rebounds, he finds the open guy. He has the total package," Kidd said of his former Olympic teammate. "And, he's about 265 [pounds]. He's playing better than anybody right now. If I am in his way I just hope that he doesn't hurt me."

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.