It was hardly the performance of a franchise player, but it was good enough, and if was not an aberration, a fleeting tease, never to be seen again in Brooklyn, then good enough should be good enough because maybe great should no longer be expected from Deron Williams.
But this Deron Williams, running the show with Jason Kidd’s mind, was every bit as important as those 15 3’s, every bit as important as keeping LeBron James out of the paint, every bit as important as the bench, to the Nets winning Game 3 over the Heat.
And it was every bit as important to the Nets trying to hold serve in Game 4 on Monday night and sending the series back to Miami all even.
In what was for all intents and purposes another Game 7 for the Nets, Barclays Center would have signed up for the Game 3 Deron Williams in Game 4 Monday night.
When Kidd was hired with zero-coaching experience, even skeptics acknowledged that if nothing else, it was certain to have a beneficial effect on Williams. And yet here we are, in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoffs, and the days of Williams being mentioned in the same sentence as Chris Paul remain a distant memory.
Given the friendship and bond between Kidd and Williams, given Kidd’s everlasting genius as a Hall of Fame point guard, the days of D-Will being disparaged as D-Won’t were supposed to be over.
There certainly couldn’t have been a better mentor to navigate Williams through the playoff wars than Kidd.
And then Kyle Lowry happened in the first round.
And then Game 2 happened in Miami.
When Deron Williams played 36 minutes and scored as many points as Kidd. Or Ian Eagle.
Not exactly the kind of bang Mikhail Prokhorov and Brooklyn were expecting for the owner’s $98 million bucks.
So when Williams dished out 11 assists in Game 3, when he showed up as the attacking facilitator who made the quick decisions and teammates better, it was, if nothing else, a moral victory worthy of ignoring a 3-for-11 shooting night that made him 3-for-20 in the previous two games.
“I realize if my shot’s not falling, I can impact the game in other ways and I’m going to do so,” he said.
So maybe it would be a good idea to lower the expectations for Williams, starting here and now.
Because maybe it is no longer realistic for us, for the Nets, to ask Williams to carry them past LeBron and the Heat. In truth, for whatever reason, Williams is that kind of player only every so often, and not nearly often enough.
Some of his decline can be attributed to his problematic ankles, and the cortisone injections and platelet-rich plasma therapy they have required. It may also be true that he has struggled under the pressure of living up to that contract, under a microscope in a city without pity. Maybe he isn’t mentally tough enough to be anything more than an enigma in this market. Maybe the window for him to be The Straw That Stirs The Drink has closed.
But if he could execute the game plan the way Kidd wants it executed, if he could move the ball faster than the Heat can rotate to it, if Mirza Teletovic and Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce could stay hot and knock down their 3’s, if Andray Blatche could be a force in the paint, if the Nets could play team defense and control the boards, if there truly was no fear of the Heat, if the Nets truly believe they can beat the Heat, then maybe there is a chance. Or maybe, in the end, there are too many ifs to knock off the two-time defending champs.
But Williams has offered little evidence that he can be a closer in the fourth quarter, or that he even wants the ball in his hands in the moments of truth. The swagger with which he entered the league has dissipated. Clyde Frazier might tell it to us this way: Shaking and baking has given way, too often, to aching and quaking. This was supposed to be his team, and his time.
Until proven otherwise, Game 3 Deron Williams will have to do.
Only four years ago, then-Bobcats coach Larry Brown was referring to Williams, then with the Jazz, when he said, “I don’t think there’s a better player in the league.” On the day Nets general manager Billy King acquired Williams, he said: “I feel Deron is the best point guard in the NBA.” After the Knicks acquired Carmelo Anthony, and the Nets landed Williams, then-GM Donnie Walsh kicked himself for not thinking that the Jazz might trade Williams. Then-Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni was rebuffed in his efforts to trade Anthony to the Nets for Williams.
How this mighty has fallen. Williams, good as gold as an Olympian, got back up in Game 3. But if you were asking him to stand as tall as he used to, starting with Game 4, you probably won’t like the answer.