by Devon Jeffreys, April 02, 2012
One of the league's best at point guard, Deron Williams is an artist with the basketball, even when his own shot isn't falling.
So when his jumper was off this weekend, during a back-to-back on the West Coast, Deron turned into an assist machine.
D-Will tallied 35 dimes as the Nets swept Northern California with wins over the Golden State Warriors on Friday (102-100) and the Sacramento Kings on Saturday (111-99). Combined with their win at home against the Pacers on Wednesday, New Jersey has now won three straight for the first time this season.
"We're playing better defensively, which is helping us on offense," Deron said after Saturday's victory in Sacramento. "We're giving a good team effort. It's different guys stepping up; tonight it was A-Mo (Anthony Morrow) and Johan (Petro). Yesterday it was G (Gerald) Wallace, one day it's Gerald Green, the next days it's Hump. We're just getting great, great team efforts night in and night out."
The Nets started the weekend against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, where Deron's facilitated a comeback. D-Will handed out 20 assists to tie Rajon Rondo for the most by a player in a single game this season and each one of them was needed to pull New Jersey from the brink of defeat.
He tallied nine of those 20 in the first half, with five in the first quarter and four in the second. He added five more in the third and six in the fourth, divvying up his dimes proportionately. No. 8 also distributed evenly amongst his teammates. Five of New Jersey's 10 active players were on the receiving end of at least one Deron dish. Humphries was the recipient of six, Green got five, Wallace and Johan Petro each finished four and DeShawn Stevenson hit one of his two treys on the night off a feed from No. 8.
D-Will now holds the NBA high marks for points and assists in a game this season. Watch each of his 20 dimes below:
The Nets trailed the homestanding Warriors by as many as 19 in the third quarter and entered the fourth down by 14. But back they came led by the All-Star tandem of D-Will and Gerald Wallace.
Deron handed out six of his season-high 20 assists in the fourth and tacked on six points. Wallace gave the Nets 10 points and grabbed nine of his 18 rebounds in the final 12 minutes. Buoyed by the outstanding performances of their two stars, New Jersey outscored Golden State 32-16 in the fourth. Still, stealing the victory from the Warriors came down to the final minutes.
After a three from rookie Charles Jenkins gave Golden State a four-point edge with 2:43 remaining, D-Will answered with a top of the arc trey to pull the Nets back within one. It was only Deron's second field goal of the game, on a tough shooting night that saw him finish 2-of-13.
"We have guys like Humphries, Gerald Wallace and Gerald Green…so we don't always have to lean on Deron offensively," Nets coach Avery Johnson said. "But that three that he made there coming out of the timeout was big. That was huge for us."
Seconds later, New Jersey tied the score at 98 when Humphries drew a foul and went 1-of-2 at the free throw line.
David Lee and Gerald Green traded baskets in the penultimate minute, leaving the score tied at 100. With 1:04 to go, Humphries stripped Lee to give the Nets a chance to take their first lead since the opening two minutes of the game.
On the other end, D-Will drove through the teeth of the defense — bringing defenders with him — and kicked out to Green, who moved in and knocked down a runner with 51.8 to go.
The swarming Nets defense followed with perhaps their best defensive possession of the game. New Jersey forced the Warriors into a hectic possession that included six passes, four of five players touching the ball and one rushed shot by Brandon Rush, with three seconds on the shot clock, which Deron swatted away, giving possession back to the Nets.
"Now you've got [Wallace] and Deron out there communicating, it's taken our leadership to a whole other stratosphere," Johnson said.
Golden State got one lost chance to tie or win, but another block, this one from Wallace on Jenkins, sealed the win for New Jersey.
"What we have right here is special and tonight just showed what we can do, what the heart and determination of this team is," Wallace said after the victory. "We have an elite point guard, we have one of the up-and-coming centers ... so our future looks great."
WINNING ON THE KINGS' COURT
The Nets continued to roll on Saturday, as they went into Sacramento and dethroned the Kings.
D-Will still didn't have his shot quite right, though he did tally 19 points in the winning effort, but it was his 15 assists that stole the show. Akis Yerocostas of Kings blog Sactown Royalty was complimentary of the way Deron led the Nets.
"Watching Williams orchestrate his offense was a joy to watch as a basketball fan. If anybody was open, Williams knew about it and he usually found them. A big benefactor was the sharpshooting Anthony Morrow, who scored a game-high 24 points in 31 minutes off the bench."
Both teams got off to a hot start, combining for 66 points in the opening quarter alone. Deron took nicely to the fast-paced first, handing out six assists to go along with seven points, three rebounds and a steal. Still the Nets trailed 35-31 after one.
New Jersey's second unit briefly grabbed the lead in the second quarter, but they trailed by two when D-Will re-entered with 5:45 left in the half. From there, Deron tallied three assists and engineered an excellent finish to the quarter as the Nets outscored 18-13 to take a three-point lead into the locker room.
The third quarter saw New Jersey turn up the defensive intensity, as they opened the frame on a 15-4 run to take a 14-point lead five minutes into the frame. No. 8 gave the Nets three points and three assists during the run. With the help of new teammate Gerald Wallace, D-Will continued to coordinate an efficient offense and swarming defense. By the end of the quarter New Jersey's lead stood at 15.
The Kings applied pressure late in the fourth, cutting the deficit to seven with just less than four minutes to go. But D-Will stepped up to put the game away, first drawing a trip to the line where he extended the lead to nine and then sinking a jumper on the Nets' next possession to make it 106-95 with 2:37 to go.
Morrow, who scored 15 of his 24 in the second half as the Nets pulled away, credited Deron for putting him in position to succeed:
"It doesn't happen all the time, not as much as it used to," he told the Associated Press of being left open as he was Saturday. "When it happens I have to take advantage of it, especially having Deron out there and everybody that draws so much attention. It's going to open up a lot of opportunities for myself and other shooters on the team."
The Nets finish off their three-game trip through the Golden State on Tuesday when they head to Hollywood to take on the Los Angeles Lakers.
It's the first and only meeting between the two teams this season. In 34 career games against the Lakers, including 15 in the playoffs with the Utah Jazz, D-Will is averaging 19.9 points and 9.1 assists per game. Tuesday will mark Deron's first game against the Lakers in a Nets uniform.
Tip-off is scheduled for 10:30 p.m. EST and the game can be seen on YES Network or NBA TV.