NEW YORK — At the ripe age of 40, Jason Kidd is one of the NBA’s elder statesmen, but on Saturday he beat several Celtics a decade or so his junior to the ball, time and time again.
The Knicks reserve guard had 8 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals in 35 minutes off the bench during the Knicks’ 85-78 Game 1 first-round playoff win at Madison Square Garden, but those numbers didn’t do his performance justice.
Whenever Kidd was on the court, the Knicks seemed to play better all around.
“Jason has been doing it all season,” New York coach Mike Woodson said. “What can you say. Loose balls, strips and he keeps the ball alive. He seems to be in the right place at the right time.”
At some of those times, Kidd made the Celtics look foolish.
With 2:20 left in the fourth and the Knicks leading, 81-76, Jeff Green was on the right wing and made a careless pass toward the top of the key even though Kidd was moving in that direction.
Kidd got a deflection, ran down the ball, and dived to beat Green, who is 26, to it.
“I am going to play as many minutes and as hard as I can when I am out there,’’ said Kidd. “It doesn’t matter if it is 30 or 10 or 35. My job is to help the team win.”
Knicks center Tyson Chandler knows the value of having the veteran guard on the court.
“A champion’s heart,” said Chandler. “That wins championships, plays like that. You’ve got a guy 40 years old, stripping the ball then diving on the floor. That’s key.”
Celtics coach Doc Rivers is a fan of Kidd, saying that he loves watching him play.
“I didn’t like watching him [Saturday],” Rivers added. “He knows how to play.
“And he beats everybody with his brain. He really does. He beats them into the ground with his brain. I don’t know what that says, but he does it.
“He just thinks. He’s in the right place. It’s a great example that if you think quicker than a guy can move, you’re still quicker. That’s why he’s there first. Because he thought what the guy was going to do before the guy did it. He’s just a valuable player to have on a basketball team.”
A big boost
Another veteran Knick that gave the Celtics more trouble than they could handle was bruising forward Kenyon Martin, who signed with the team in March for the remainder of the season.
Martin had 10 points and nine rebounds off the bench in 28 minutes.
But the 35-year old also had five offensive rebounds; the Celtics had, gulp, four.
“Kenyon kept balls alive and was battling with [Kevin] Garnett inside,” Woodson said.
“We really don’t have to double team a lot of people when he is down there on the post,” Carmelo Anthony said of Martin. “We can all stay at home and play our defensive schemes. He is playing unbelievable right now.”
Rajon Rondo, who is rehabbing from knee surgery, was with the Celtics, and Rivers said the All-Star point guard has been helpful in terms of coaching his teammates, even from the bench.
“He probably coaches as much as [any of the players],” Rivers said. “I don’t know if it helps. I think it does.”
Rondo was also helpful at shootaround, Rivers said, as the guard knew “every play” that the Knicks were running and advised players where to go during each one.
“It’s amazing,” Rivers said. “He’s always been that way. He’s not playing and yet he studied the book.
“He’s always been on another level. I always tell him that if he wasn’t so crazy he’d be a great coach.”
Given the events of the past week in Boston, Rivers expected his team to be distracted and make mistakes when it practiced Friday.
“We were right,” he said before the game. “Practice [played] out that way.”
On Friday night, authorities apprehended a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, ending a manhunt that kept the city locked down for most of the day.
“Thank gosh it’s over,” Rivers said. “It was good to see everybody in the city happy, hugging, and rejoicing. And I’m sure our players had chance to exhale.”
There weren’t many Celtics fans in the crowd, a point Green acknowledged.
“Our fans are what give us that extra boost of energy when the fourth quarter comes around,” he said. “I mean, it’s been a tough week for our city and I’m sure a lot of people wanted to come down but couldn’t because of the circumstances that took place. And we miss them, but it’s the playoffs. The atmosphere here is going to be geared mostly toward the Knicks.”
Woodson said he wasn’t sure if starting point guard Pablo Prigioni (ankle sprain) would play in Game 2 here Tuesday, but he said he wouldn’t rule it out. “He has a pretty good chance to be back in a uniform on Tuesday,” Woodson said.