It turns out the figurative death of "Playoff Deron Williams" was prematurely reported.
Paul Pierce brought attention to the Nets’ recent misfortune a couple weeks ago, providing his former teammates—and Williams, specifically—with some unforgiving bulletin board material ahead of Brooklyn’s playoff series against Atlanta.
“Before I got there, I looked at Deron as an MVP candidate,” Pierce says. “But I felt once we got there, that’s not what he wanted to be. He just didn’t want that.”
After Williams scored a measly 18 points on 27% shooting in the first three contests of Brooklyn’s first-round series, The Truth appeared to have spoken just that about the 30-year-old point guard. Before Game 4, it seemed as though Williams was bound for his most disappointing postseason yet.
But Williams sure looked like he wanted redemption during the Nets' thrilling win against the Hawks on Monday, tying a playoff career-high by pouring in 35 points on 13-of-25 shooting (7-of-11 from beyond the arc).
It didn’t really matter whether the Hawks were guarding him well. Williams was 6-for-12 on contested shots, and 7-for-13 on uncontested looks, according to NBA.com. He was simply a man on a mission, and thanks to his heroics, the Nets have a puncher’s chance of doing the unthinkable—advancing past a Hawks team that seemingly had every advantage over them coming into this series, both on and off the court.
Atlanta swept the Nets 4-0 during the regular season, and owns Brooklyn’s draft pick this summer thanks to a provision in the Joe Johnson trade that no reasonable basketball mind thought would come to fruition. Knocking the Nets out of the postseason was just supposed to be the cherry on top for the Hawks.
But none of that matters now, in large part due to Williams delivering the type of star performance the Nets were hoping for when they acquired him from Utah over four years ago.
Williams didn’t do anything out of his ordinary capacities to get his buckets (well, except for his ridiculous bailout shot with two minutes left). Just as he did during the regular season, he struggled in the restricted zone (3-for-8 in Game 4), but rained fire from the corners (3-for-4) to make up for it.
Note: You can hover over each shooting zone to see Williams’ numbers as well as the league average in each area.
Despite his torrid pace from the corners, Williams probably isn’t going to shoot at a 77% clip from downtown for the rest of this series. But it’s not too crazy to think he could keep his play at least at a higher level than it was during the regular season.
Just as alpha dogs are supposed to do, Williams has always picked up more of the scoring load during postseason play. Even when accounting for his awful showings in Games 1-3, he’s done the same in these playoffs.
The key to success for Williams is different than it is for most floor generals. Instead of making his mark on drives to the basket, Williams earns his keep as one of the best shooting point guards in the league—from beyond the arc, at least.
But when he hoists up midrange jumpers out of isolation sets, as he did on Brooklyn’s last possession of regulation on Monday, the results are usually ugly. Williams made just 40.2% of his attempts between 4-16 feet during the regular season—and yet stubbornly launches them time after time.
Unfortunately for the Nets, Williams doesn’t have the speed to jet past his defenders to the rim anymore. Settling for those inefficient midrange shots isn’t his preference—it’s somewhat of a necessity at his age, if Lionel Hollins is going to keep calling isolation plays for him.
So in some ways, it makes sense that the Nets made their big run late in the fourth quarter Monday with Jarrett Jack in the lineup as the primary ball handler, freeing Williams to spot up on the perimeter.
On the other hand, we have a season’s worth of stats that tell us the Jack-Williams pairing was one of Brooklyn’s absolute worst two-man combos this season, with a net rating of -8.0.
Maybe we can’t expect that bonanza to continue, but Williams finally learned how to stick to his strengths on Monday, and that’s a scary thing for Hawks fans.
The scenario the Nets find themselves in now is eerily reminiscent of the opportunity their opponents had a year ago, when the Hawks (37-45) put a huge scare into the top-seeded Pacers. Now the shoe is on the other foot, as Atlanta looks surprisingly vulnerable against a team that finished below .500.
If the Nets are to do what the Hawks couldn’t last year and actually polish off this massive would-be upset, Williams will have to be at the center of it all.
More from Will Laws:
- The Most Valuable Two-Man Lineups for Each NBA Team
- Highest-Scoring Short Players in NBA History
- Every NBA Franchise’s Worst Season Ever
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