by Alex Sims, January 14, 2013
Entering Sunday's game with the Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets head coach P.J. Carlesimo was skeptical about the status of his point guard Deron Williams for the important Eastern Conference tilt.
After a collision with Suns point guard Goran Dragic on Friday night, Deron suffered a deep thigh contusion. He returned to the game and led the Nets to victory, but had a noticeable limp for the rest of the contest and was unsure of his status afterward. Even in the hours leading up to Sunday's crucial game with the Pacers, D-Will was not considered a lock to take the court.
But as it turned out, Carlesimo had nothing to worry about. With the No. 3 team in the Eastern Conference in town, D-Will wasn't about to miss the chance to prove how far the Nets have come. And though the coach said before the game that he planned to limit his point guard, Deron ended up playing a team-high 41 minutes and scoring a team-high 22 points to go along with nine assists in a 97-86 Brooklyn win over Indiana.
"I knew I was going to play a lot because the more I sit out, the more it tightens up," D-Will said. "The best thing to do is just keep playing through it. I felt it out there. Definitely, I was in pain, but it wasn't bad. It was kind of annoying, a nuisance. But it didn't affect me."
Despite the injury, D-Will looked as quick and explosive as ever. Indiana opened up a small lead early on, but No. 8 and the Nets soon fought back. Down by six, Deron knocked down a mid-range jumper to start an enormous Brooklyn run.
On the next possession, he posted up high then darted past Indiana's George Hill for an uncontested layup. After the play, all Hill could do was give a helpless shrug. D-Will later capped the 16-1 run, ending the quarter with a corner three off a feed from MarShon Brooks.
Health was question for Nets, especially Deron Williams. They and he looked healthy enough that quarter. He had 12, Nets up 27-21 on Pacers
— Mark Herrmann (@markpherrmann) January 13, 2013
Nets finish the first quarter up 27-21. Deron Williams has been terrific, finishing with 12 points. David West had 10 points for the Pacers.
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) January 13, 2013
Over the next two periods, the talented Pacers got hot, while the Nets cooled considerably. Brooklyn shot just 27.3 percent from the field in the third, while Indiana neared 60 percent shooting to take a six-point lead going into fourth. To complete the comeback in the final period, D-Will and the Nets knew they would have to lock down on the defensive end.
"We talked about it in the huddle," Deron said. "Going into the fourth, we needed to up our defense and be dedicated to getting stops, and that's what we did."
Brooklyn put forth a phenomenal defensive effort in the final frame, holding the Pacers to 11 points on 13.6 percent shooting from the floor.
Opponents season-low 4th quarter points is 13 (done three times) ... Pacers currentlyhave 11
— Nets PR Dept. (@Nets_PR) January 14, 2013
Meanwhile, D-Will dished out four dimes in the fourth, two that ended in Joe Johnson triples and two resulting in easy buckets for Brook Lopez. The Brooklyn center had 10 of his 15 points in the fourth.
"He knew he was, at times, going up a little soft and Roy Hibbert is a good defensive player and a good defensive center. He was making it tough for Brook to get a lot of his shots off," D-Will said of Lopez. "But in the second half, and really the fourth quarter, he was a lot more aggressive, went up stronger, and he got those two 17-foot jump shots that gave him a little confidence. And once he got that, he was ready to go."
Lopez, Johnson and D-Will allowed Brooklyn to finish out its decisive comeback. The Nets outscored the Pacers 28-11 in the final frame to secure their sixth straight win and improve their record to 8-1 under Carlesimo. The Nets are also still undefeated in the 2013 calendar year.
"This was a big game for us," Deron said. "We had won five in a row, but most of them have come against teams with below .500 records. This is a playoff team—and we've struggled against playoff teams this year— so this is a big win for us."
D-Will continued his hot streak individually as well. In addition to his 22 points and nine dimes, he also had five boards and finished 6-of-6 from the free throw line.
Deron Williams has now made 32 consecutive free throws, his longest streak as a Net
— Nets PR Dept. (@Nets_PR) January 14, 2013
After a rough patch early in the year, D-Will is now hitting his stride, an improvement he credits to a slight change in philosophy when it comes to his health. That includes taking it easier in practice so he is healthier and has more energy for games.
"Early on I felt like I wanted to practice so much. I kind of felt like I was soft if I'm not out there and my teammates are out there practicing," he admitted. "I've just been a lot smarter about it. It's just been one of those things where either you want it in practice, or you want it in games. Because of that, my ankle feels better. My wrist feels better."
Feeling better physically has also helped to improve D-Will's on-court mentality. With an improved sense of confidence, No. 8 has been feeling it out on the floor.
"That's a big key for me going through my head, it feels a lot better," Deron said. "I'm more confident, just because I know I'm not as injured. It doesn't affect you, it doesn't weigh on you."
Now that some weight has been lifted from his shoulders, D-Will has been able to feed some of that energy into his teammates. The results for the Nets have been obvious and abundant. They've won eight of their last nine games and climbed to fourth in the East, just a half game behind the Pacers for third and 2.5 games behind Miami for the top spot.
"This was a good test for us, a good challenge against a good team, and we came ready and stepped up our game in the fourth quarter," D-Will said. "We're just having a lot more fun. You can see it on our faces. We're getting stops and sharing the ball. That's how we want to play."
Next on the slate for the Nets (22-15) will be their third meeting with division rival Toronto (14-23).
Brooklyn is 2-0 against the Raptors so far this season, with one victory in Toronto and the other at the Barclays Center.
The Nets hosted Toronto for their season opener in Brooklyn back in November. In that game, D-Will notched 19 points and nine assists in the 107-100 victory. Their recent success against the Raptors and current hot streak has the Nets confident heading into Tuesday night's contest.
"As a whole, I think we're just encouraging each other right now," D-Will said. "We're having fun and we're enjoying playing together. That's the most important thing. I think we'll have a chance to beat anybody."
Tuesday's tilt is set to tip-off at 7:30 p.m. EST from the Barclays Center and will air on the YES Network.
- Deron Williams a new point guard in the new year (Examiner.com, January 13, 2013)
- Thigh High: Williams lifts Nets over Pacers (ESPN New York, January 13, 2013)
- Strong fourth quarter lifts Nets past Pacers for sixth win in a row (Newsday, January 13, 2013)
- Nets Fight Through Injuries and Surge Past Pacers (New York Times, January 13, 2013)
- Williams, nets run win streak to 6 (New York Post, January 14, 2013)
- Brooklyn Nets win sixth straight game (New York Daily News, January 13, 2013)