Deron Williams walked into the Nets’ conference room with a certain swagger following his vintage 35 point, 7 assist and 5 rebound performance, one that helped clinch a 120-115 overtime win for his ball club. It was an important win for Brooklyn, one that now has them in a position to upset the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks in this first-round series.
Williams placed his designer back-pack – complete with ‘DMW’ insignia on it – next to the podium, faced a throng of media that had clearly grown in numbers from the previous game, and answered questions on his performance that had the Barclays Center crowd captivated.
“It was a big game, it was an important game. We really needed to get this one to stay in the series. So it was definitely one of my better games this year for sure, and obviously as a Net,” Williams said.
Much has been said about Williams’ game since he signed a five-year, $98.5 million contract in 2012. Whether it’s been injuries to his ankles or wrists, Father Time, or a combination of both, Williams has looked far less like the ‘D.Will’ of the Utah Jazz days each year.
Criticism of Williams was growing louder – and not just from the N.Y. media, either. Former teammate Paul Pierce sounded off about Williams in an ESPN.com article less than two weeks ago.
“Before I got there, I looked at Deron as an MVP candidate,” Pierce said. “But I felt once we got there, that’s not what he wanted to be. He just didn’t want that.
“I think a lot of the pressure got to him sometimes. This was his first time in the national spotlight. The media in Utah is not the same as the media in New York, so that can wear on some people. I think it really affected him.”
Heading into Monday’s Game 4, Williams had shot just 2-15 combined in the previous two games, and was averaging a meager 6 points, but still contributing seven rebounds and 5 assists during the playoffs. Nets’ coach Lionel Hollins defended his player following a film session on Sunday, urging the media to tone down their expectations of Williams.
On Monday, though, Williams responded the best way he knew: on-court. Williams scored 11 in the first quarter, punctuated by 16 in the fourth. He hit 13 of his 25 shots in total over 46 minutes, along with 7 for 11 from beyond the arc, including a turnaround 3-pointer from well behind the arc as the shot clock was set to expire.
“I don’t know what happened. I just know the clock was winding down and I had to get a shot up,” said Williams.
“I mean, the kid has overcome a lot of adversity. He’s had a lot of adversity with the injuries and the negativity around his name,” coach Lionel Hollins said. “For him to come out showed a lot of character to put up a performance like that, especially when we needed it, because without that performance, I don’t know if we get out of here with a win. But I’ll take it, and I’m excited about him and I’m excited about how the team rallied around him as well. And that’s what this is about. And I thought it was a huge, huge step in unity for our ball club.”
Williams admitted during his post-game conference that he can often be too hard on himself at times, but it was the support of the coaching staff and his teammates that buoyed him during a week of roller-coaster emotions.
“It means a lot. It’s definitely gratifying to have a game like this at this moment in time. I’m thankful, I’m definitely thankful. I had a lot of support the last couple days, a lot of prayers, definitely helped me out a lot,” Williams said. “I saw what he (Hollins) said. Somebody sent me a link (to the story). I thanked him after the game. It means a lot when you’re struggling like that and your coach comes out and defends you the way he did.”
Williams may have saved the Nets from a 3-1 hole with his turn-the-clock-back Game 4, but a couple more performances like that and the Nets will become the sixth NBA team ever to pull off an 8-over-1 upset.
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