Last night the Brooklyn Nets took on the first place Boston Celtics and, well, as you would imagine... Wait, the Nets won? Yup, the Nets won. Getting their star point guard back and their former Finals MVP did wonders for this floundering Brooklyn squad.
Deron Williams went off in his first game since November 20, mirroring the way that he played after the All-Star break last season, scoring 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting and dishing out seven assists. Paul Pierce, who was slumping before breaking his hand just eight days ago, returned to the lineup in a reserve role.
Diving deeper into Williams' game, it was clear that this was not "this year's Deron," rather it was one who finished last year's regular season on a tear. Last night against the Celtics, he took five of his shots inside the restricted area, more than any other area on the floor. He drove hard to the basket quickly and decisively, nimbly getting around Celtic players for an easy layup.
Williams missed six shots all game, four of which came from beyond the arc. Another came from a turnaround six-footer, and the other came on a jumper off of a pick-and-roll with Kevin Garnett. This efficient shot selection should become a staple of Williams' game, as defenses key in on Brook Lopez. This should allow Williams to pick his spots on offense and not force his shots. As long as he continues to take efficient shots -- get better looks -- and let the game come to him, the Nets offense should continue to excel.
What was the most pleasant sight to see, though, was his speed. Williams did what Jason Kidd said they were going to do on offseason: run. DWill was constantly pushing the ball, beating the Celtics down the floor on multiple occasions. Playing 36 minutes, Williams shattered any doubts of rust after not playing for nearly three weeks.
Paul Pierce was not a major factor in last night's win over the Celtics -- his first career game against Boston, mind you -- but he did play a solid game for his first game for someone coming off a hand injury and having to wear a protective glove. Kidd said Pierce was going to take it slow and try to get back into the flow of things, and he did, facilitating the Nets offense, and not shooting too much, taking just three shots, but he did crash the boards hard with seven rebounds.
Could the Nets keep up this fine play with Pierce coming off the bench? Last night, the team's original starting five (Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, Pierce, and Williams) did not all play at the same time. Not once. That is a small sample size, but if Pierce is willing to play a reserve role, it might be better off for the team to have a second unit leader, as Jason Kidd noted after the game. Having a player like Pierce anchor a versatile Nets second unit could provide stability as well as a pure scorer, something that particular unit has been lacking on a nightly basis. Especially once Pierce's hand heels and his shot returns, he can be a force for the second unit.
He said after the game that he was willing to come off the bench, if it helps the team, saying "It's all about the team and it's about winning, if that's what's best for the team, then so be it." Then saying, "I'm willing to do whatever." Right now, this seems to be what's best for the team.
In their first game back, Williams and Pierce could not have played better, given the circumstances. Pierce's box score may not have shown it, but he is also playing with a broken hand. Williams, on the other hand, played like the superstar that we have known him to be. He was and is, as Kevin Garnett said, the "head of the snake." And he played like it.
Injuries haven't derailed D-Will - Mike Mazzeo - ESPN New York
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