by Jordan Garretson, January 09, 2012
Deron Williams returned to the lineup on Friday and gave the New Jersey Nets the boost needed to end a skid.
D-Will scored a season-high 24 points and added another season-high in assists with nine to lead New Jersey to a 97-85 win over the Toronto Raptors. It was the second win of the season for the Nets, snapping a six-game losing streak.
"We needed a win in the worst way. I think everybody realized that tonight and we buckled down defensively," Deron told The Record. "It's fun to win. It's fun to be up and not down 20."
With both D-Will and center Kris Humphries back from injuries, the Nets played one of their best games of the season, The Record's Andy Vasquez wrote:
"The Nets got a big boost before, with two of their best players, Williams and Humphries, returning from injury. Williams missed Wednesday's game with a sore side — he took a hard foul in Monday's loss to Indiana. Humphries missed two games with a sprained left shoulder.
It wasn't as if the Nets were at full strength. Rookie MarShon Brooks (sprained left ankle) and Damion James (sore right foot) missed Friday's game. Stevenson started in James' place, becoming the 10th different Net to start this season — the team has played only eight games. But they looked better than they've looked in all of those games, winning all four quarters against the Raptors."
D-Will's elite playmaking abilities were also on full display. New Jersey shot a red-hot 15-of-31 from 3-point range, largely due to Deron's ability to set up open shots.
No. 8 got the Nets going in the first with a drive to the lane for the finger roll to give the team a 7-6 lead. Moments later he dished to Anthony Morrow for the long three to make it 10-8. The teams traded the lead multiple times in the first, but Deron broke a 21-21 tie with a free throw to give the Nets a 22-21 lead after one.
In the second, the Raptors took a brief lead. But once D-Will re-entered the game, he set about helping his teammates bring New Jersey back as he assisted or scored on every play during an 11-0 Nets run to the lead.
First Deron found Morrow for another trey to make it 35-34, then he dished to Johan Petro for a layup on the next Nets possession to make it 36-35 for the road team. He hit Morrow for a third trey with 3:51 to go in the half to put New Jersey in front by four, then added a triple of his own forcing a Raptors timeout with the Nets possessing a 39-35 lead.
Deron added a layup with 1:19 to go and New Jersey took an eight-point lead into the half. Petro noted that the attention D-Will draws has been a boost for he and his teammates, but it's also an adjustment.
"We know the caliber of Deron, so we know he's going to bring a lot of double teams," Petro said "He's a leader. He's going to get double-teamed, triple-teamed. So that's going to leave a lot of guys wide open like myself. The main thing we're all learning is how to play around him. That's what the main adjustment was. It's the first time we've had a presence to bring that much attention."
Coach Avery Johnson credited the Nets' offensive success to adjustments made in a practice they had on Thursday, the first they had been able to fit in since the season began.
"We cleaned up so many different areas, and to get the carryover into today's game was a thrill for us as a coaching staff and for our players," Johnson told the Star-Ledger.
Deron picked up right where he left off in the second half with a dish to Morrow for a jumper that put the Nets up eight. Toronto went on a run to draw within three, but No. 8 again took over, hitting a jump shot to put New Jersey up five. On the next possession he hit DeShawn Stevenson for a trey to make it 59-53 and 30 seconds later another D-Will jumper made it 61-54. Deron also added six of the Nets' final eight points of the quarter and after three they led 75-64.
The Nets cruised from there, with No. 8 tallying his final three points on fourth quarter free throws and handing out his ninth and final assist to Stevenson later. After the game, Stevenson lauded his point guard's knack for finding open teammates, as quoted by the Associated Press:
"When you have two shooters like me and (Morrow), they've got to pick which one. I got open 3s, (Morrow) got open 3s. That's the way you've got to play," Stevenson said. "That's why I came here. [Deron] is an All-Star point guard, he does great things out there. If you put him in a situation where the court is spread, we can get wide-open jumpers all day."
HEAT OF THE MOMENT
Unfortunately, the Nets couldn't parlay the momentum from No. 8's return into a second-straight win, dropping a 101-90 decision against Miami on Saturday.
Even D-Will's first double-double of the season — he recorded 10 points and a season-high 10 assists — wasn't quite enough to fuel New Jersey to an upset win over the league-best Heat (8-1).
After falling behind 10-0 early in the game, the Nets had chances to pull off the upset. New Jersey responded to Miami's 10-0 opening run with a 10-2 spurt of their own to pull within two, midway through the first. But by the end of the quarter Miami had opened its lead back up to 13 and they took a 22-point lead into halftime.
"I just think we're not executing, we're not finishing, we're not hitting shots," Deron said. "We're messing up plays and we're not in the right spots. Yesterday [in Toronto] we were, today we weren't. It was night and day from where we were. But a lot of it was we played good defense [against the Raptors]."
The Nets trailed by 24 as late as the third quarter, But D-Will helped them whittle down the deficit before Miami regained control, the Associated Press wrote:
"The Nets cut it to 10 on Williams' 3-pointer with 4:27 left in the third, and had a chance to get closer on their next possession when rookie MarShon Brooks drove for a layup. But James blocked the shot to trigger a fast break that led to Shane Battier's 3-pointer, and rookie Norris Cole followed with one to make it 72-56."
Deron said the fight the Nets showed in the third quarter was an encouraging sign, but meant little without a win to back it up.
"We made some shots and got some stops. The third quarter was probably the only good quarter we had," he said. "That's a good team we played against. We didn't win. We need to find a way to get wins."
D-Will had hoped to use the game against Miami as a barometer for the Nets' progress, but he said with so little work on the practice court, it's difficult to judge the Nets just yet.
"We need a lot of work, but we haven't had many practices," D-Will said. "We knew the first part of the season, December and January, was going to be tough. Most of our games are on the road and not much practice time. It will definitely help to get a couple practices in [this week]."
D-Will and the Nets will look for their second win in three games as they take on the Atlanta Hawks at Prudential Center on Monday night.
New Jersey dropped both earlier meetings against the Hawks this season, though Deron played one of his best games of the year the second time around. No. 8 scored 23 points on 50 percent shooting from the field on Dec. 30 while also adding six assists and two steals, but New Jersey lost, 105-98.
Monday's game, the third of the year between the two teams, can be seen at 7:30 p.m. EST on YES.
- LeBron James returns as Dwayne Wade-less Heat roll by Nets (Associated Press, Jan. 7, 2012)
- Deron Williams, Anthony Morrow lift nets past Raptors and end losing streak at six games (The Record, Jan. 6, 2012)
- Deron Williams helps Nets end 6-game skid, put away Raptors (Associated Press, Jan. 6, 2012)
- Nets down Toronto Raptors, 97-85, for second win of season (The Star-Ledger, Jan. 7, 2012)