Thursday, May 22, 2003
Former UC star carrying Nets
Martin team's top scorer in conference finals
By Joseph White
The Associated Press
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Kenyon Martin cut the "stupid stuff" from his game. What's left looks like championship material.
By adding mature to mean and mad, the former national college player of the year at UC is no longer a dicey wild card when New Jersey needs him to win a game. His dominant fourth quarter in Game 2 single-handedly rescued the Nets from an 11-point deficit against Detroit and has them two victories away from their second consecutive Eastern Conference title.
"I'm pretty much the same player - I just got better, learned the game a lot more," Martin said. "I grew up a lot, on and off the court. If your mind rules, your game rules."
Kenyon Martin is all smiles with seconds to go in an Eastern Conference semifinal victory over the Boston Celtics.
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The Nets, who have won eight straight playoff games, are in promising position for a sweep with Games 3 and 4 at home Thursday and Saturday. Martin was the leading scorer for the Nets in Games 1 and 2, scoring 16 and 25 points in the two-point victories at the Palace.
"I'm seen him grow unbelievably," Nets coach Byron Scott said. "Now he is playing like a superstar. This is the time of the year where you can make a name for yourself, and that's what he is doing."
A year ago, Martin was as likely to produce fouls and fines as much as points and rebounds. He missed seven games from various suspensions due to flagrant fouls and earned a reputation as an emerging young hothead.
Martin dunks against the Detroit Pistons in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals Tuesday. Martin led all scorers with 25 points.
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Now 25 and in his third season, Martin has learned to channel the energy he used to waste on refs and other players. A few long talks with Scott and the example of teammate Jason Kidd have proved invaluable.
"Just focusing mentally, staying away from the stupid stuff, keeping my mouth closed a little more, just playing the game," Martin said. "A lot of it is Jay, just seeing the way he carries himself, his calm demeanor. I'm just taking bits and pieces from him and putting them in my game. But I'm still playing my game."
Martin picked up his fourth foul late in the third quarter Tuesday and was mad about the way he was playing. Scott said in previous years he would have taken Martin out. This time, the coach not only trusted Martin, he needed him, And Martin responded with 16 points in the final 12 minutes.
"You just see it over the course of a season, that he's just understanding what this league is all about," Scott said. "Maturity is something every player has to go through in this league. It takes some guys four or five years to get there. Some guys it takes one of two years.
Martin talks with Jason Kidd while riding exercise bikes at a workout last week.
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"He's come a long way, and now he's one of those type of guys that we can definitely go to in the fourth quarter."
Martin has also been a defensive presence in a series with precious little offensive flow. It wasn't until the Nets' fourth-quarter comeback in Game 2 that a team finally broke 30 points in a quarter.
The Nets haven't been able to run, scoring just 25 fast-break points in seven quarters after getting 18 in the first quarter of Game 1. They've won playing Pistons-style, grinding it out and persevering late with a 51-30 edge in fourth-quarter points.
"It is a little frustrating," Detroit forward Corliss Williamson said, "because we got them out of their game and playing the style of basketball that plays into our hands."
Detroit has the task of matching the 1994 Houston Rockets and the 1969 Los Angeles Lakers as the only teams in NBA history to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first two games at home. The Nets haven't played at home since May 7 and haven't lost at the Meadowlands since April 22, when they dropped a first-round game to Milwaukee. The Pistons have lost 14 of their last 16 postseason road games.
"I'm still optimistic about our chances," Detroit coach Rick Carlisle said. "What we have to do now is win a game and get on the board. The fact that we've had significant leads in the fourth and been unable to hold them is disappointing on the one hand, but encouraging as well because we've gotten ourselves in position. We've just got to finish better."
Carlisle wouldn't say whether more lineup changes are coming. He gave Tayshaun Prince his first playoff start Tuesday, but the rookie scored just six points. He wants Chauncey Billups to stay aggressive, even though the point guard is 7-for-25 in the series and is recovering from a sprained ankle.
"He's the type of player that when he breaks out, can break out in a big way," Carlisle said.
Meanwhile, Scott was warning his players not to let up, reminding them the Pistons overcame a 3-1 deficit against Orlando in the first round.
"I've got to let the guys know that it's not over," Scott said. "They're not going to quit."
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