Different Deron: Williams turns it on for Cavs in playoffs

CLEVELAND (AP) For nearly two months, Deron Williams appeared lost with his new teammates - an outsider among the Cavaliers.

Well, he found the perfect time to fit in.

The former All-Star guard came up big for Cleveland during its first-round sweep of Indiana, providing scoring and another option for LeBron James on the Cavs' second unit. Williams averaged 8.3 points, made of 10 of 13 field goals - 7 of 9 on 3-pointers - and did not commit a turnover during 63 minutes on the floor.

It took longer than expected, but Williams, who arrived with plenty of accolades and postseason experience but without an NBA championship ring, finally played the way the Cavaliers envisioned when they signed him in late February.

''Every day he's getting more and more comfortable with what we want to do,'' James said. ''With his ability and getting comfortable, getting back to being D-Will.''

At his peak, Williams, the No. 3 overall pick in 2005 whose previous stops included Utah, Brooklyn and Dallas, was one of the league's elite point guards - a playmaker capable of making the right pass and a ball-dominant scorer who could take over a game.

When the Cavaliers signed the two-time Olympic gold medalist as a free agent after Dallas bought out his contract, Williams was seen as an ideal backup for All-Star Kyrie Irving and someone to share the ball-handling duties with James, who typically starts the second quarter with four reserves.

However, until his breakout against the Pacers, Williams struggled. Slowed by injuries over the past few seasons, he was sluggish, looked out of shape and couldn't defend. Coach Tyronn Lue lacked confidence in him, and there was a time when it appeared he might be dropped from the postseason rotation.

Looking back, Williams said, the challenge of joining an established title team was more difficult than he envisioned.

''It was an adjustment,'' he said. ''Any time you go to another team in the middle of the season it's going to be an adjustment. Add to it it's the defending champs, a lot of pressure and, you know, it was a different situation for me than I had ever been in in my career. Coming off the bench, playing short minutes, trying to figure out how to stay confident and be aggressive sometimes when you don't have the ball in your hands.

''I feel like I've had a little bit over two months now and I've adjusted and figured things out.''

As the season wound down, Lue needed to get Williams more involved to make sure he could count on him in the playoffs. So with James, Irving and Kevin Love resting in the last road game, Williams scored 35 points and had nine assists and seven rebounds in an overtime loss at Miami.

The extended playing time allowed Williams to stretch his legs and regain some swagger.

''The Miami game definitely helped because it was a game where I was just trying to be aggressive, go back to kind of playing the way I'm used to,'' Williams said. ''It definitely kind of helped me jump-start and get my confidence back a little bit because the games before that I wasn't getting many attempts, many looks, was kind of fooling around. When I do that I kind of lose confidence.''

It didn't help Williams that his arrival coincided with the team navigating around some turbulence caused by injuries. The Cavaliers coasted toward the finish line and Williams found himself caught between his immediate needs and the team's long-term goal - a second straight title. The Cavs went 10-14 after Williams signed.

''Any time you're losing, it just makes it worse,'' he said. ''If you're winning, everything's good. We'd been losing, had a losing record since I was there. So, it was a struggle at first but there were some wins where you definitely knew what we could do. ... It's hard to stay locked in for 82 games when you've been playing into June four, five years in a row. But now everybody is locked in and it's a whole different feeling.''

And a whole different D-Will.

''He's given us a huge boost,'' said James. ''We needed him. We're happy we got him.''

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More AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

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