BOSTON (Ticker) -- We Kidd you not. The New Jersey Nets are going to the NBA Finals.
The Nets, who had won one playoff series prior to this season, closed out the Eastern Conference finals in six games. They await the winner of the Western Conference series between the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers.
"(The) biggest thing come tomorrow, when I'm on the golf course, I'll realize that we won the Eastern Conference finals and we are the best team coming out of the East," Kidd said.
"This team has been through so much," said Nets coach Byron Scott, whose team doubled its win total from last season. "From where we started to where we ended up, it's been a tremendous turnaround. You just have to give those guys a lot of credit because they believed in me and they believed in our staff. This is the fruits of our labor and it is a tremendous feeling in that locker room right now."
With his all-around excellence and commitment to unselfish play, Kidd has been the driving force behind the Nets' meteoric rise. Friday was no exception as the All-Star guard registered his third triple-double of the series with 15 points, 13 assists and 13 rebounds.
"He doesn't care about how many points he has or how many rebounds he gets," Nets center Todd MacCulloch said. "All he cares about is if the New Jersey Nets win basketball games."
"Jason Kidd is an off-the-chart player," Celtics coach Jim O'Brien said. "He is as good a point guard that I've ever seen. To be able to get triple-doubles on a regular basis is something to be said."
The Nets were clinging to a one-point lead when Kidd hit a foul-line jumper and found Kenyon Martin with a lob pass for a dunk and an 89-84 lead with 2:01 to go.
The Celtics got within 91-88 in the final minute, but Keith Van Horn delivered the dagger with a 3-pointer that beat the shot clock with 49 seconds left. Kidd added the clinching free throws 16 seconds later.
"I saw the play develop, right when Kerry (Kittles) drove I felt like I was going to get a shot," Van Horn said. "I knew the history of their defense this series was just to collapse and I knew they were going to collapse. I pretty much anticipated the whole play."
Martin scored 16 points and Richard Jefferson added 15 for the Nets, who showed tremendous resiliency throughout the series. After losing Game Three by wasting a 21-point fourth-quarter lead, they won the final three games of the series.
"We matured from that game. Game Three really taught us a lot about ourselves and some things that we had to do offensively," Scott said. "It was the best thing that happened to us, losing Game Three the way we did, because it made us a better team and made us strong, especially in the second half."
For the second straight game, the Nets went to a zone defense in the fourth quarter that bottled up Celtics stars Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker. The high-scoring duo was held scoreless over the final 11 minutes, with Walker missing a pair of crucial free throws with 90 seconds left.
"I thought it bothered them a lot," Scott said. "I thought it enabled us to get back into the game. Sometimes I go into it because I know they have a nice little rhythm going, a nice little flow in their offense, and I want to disrupt that."
Kenny Anderson scored 18 points, Walker 16 and Pierce 14 for Boston, which enjoyed a renaissance of its own this season. After missing the playoffs for six consecutive years, the Celtics won 49 games and advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 1988.
"I think this is just the start of something," Pierce said. "We have nothing to hang our heads down for. We had a great year and this is nothing that's going to linger, not for me. I think this is just the beginning of a young team, taking our steps to something that could be special for us down the line."
"I think the biggest thing that we can take out of this season is that we need home-court advantage," Walker said.
The Nets were clinging to a 75-74 lead before Martin made a turnaround jumper with 8:05 to play. On consecutive possessions, Kidd penetrated and fed Lucious Harris and Aaron Williams for layups. Williams was fouled and added a free throw for an 82-74 advantage with 6:05 left.
Erick Strickland scored six straight Boston points before a layup by Rodney Rogers pulled the Celtics within 85-84 with 2:54 remaining.
Two free throws by Rogers made it 89-86 with 1:39 to go. Kittles threw away a pass and fouled Walker, who missed both free throws. Martin rebounded the second miss and was fouled by Pierce. He made both at the other end for a 91-86 lead.
Harris scored 12 points and Van Horn and MacCulloch added 11 each for the Nets, who shot 47 percent (36-of-76) from the field. Strickland scored 14 points, Rogers 13 and Eric Williams 11 for the Celtics, who shot 43 percent (34-of-79), including 7-of-30 from the arc.
"If you're the Boston Celtics and with the team that we built, you got to make threes, and we just didn't get that done," O'Brien said.
The Celtics had been outscored, 90-47, in the first period of the last three games and appeared on their way to digging themselves another hole when the Nets scored the first eight points. But they regrouped nicely and closed the quarter with a 12-3 spurt, taking a 28-21 lead.
Two 3-pointers by Harris early in the second quarter gave New Jersey a 29-28 lead. Anderson scored eight points and fed Walker for a pretty layup in the final 3 1/2 minutes of the first half, helping Boston widen its lead to 54-44 at the break.
The Nets began the second half playing tougher defense and got back in the game. Kidd found Harris for a jumper and made a layup before two free throws by Martin gave them a 70-69 lead entering the final period.
"I think the second half, they slowed us up," Walker said. "We were executing our offense early on in the first half."