(December 12, 2013)
BROOKLYN—Mention snakes to all almost any grade-school child and the first question you’ll hear is this: Is it poisonous?
Snakes were a topic of conversation Tuesday night in the Brooklyn Nets locker room following their 104-96 win over the Boston Celtics. Well, the analogy of point guards and snakes made the rounds.
Paul Pierce was asked the significance of having a healthy Deron Williams back in the lineup?
"He is the head of the snake," Paul Pierce said. "He is one of the most important pieces of what we are trying to do here and we are trying to build and win a championship."
With the exception of the elite super star – Jordan, Bryant, James – there is no more important player on the court than the point guard.
No franchise knows this as well as the Nets.
When they had Stephon Marbury, a toxic point guard because he was more concerned with himself than his team, the Nets were a failure.
When Rod Thorn pulled off the best trade in franchise history – the one that sent Marbury to Phoenix for Jason Kidd – the Nets literally were transformed overnight.
If you need a more recent reference, just consider Thursday night’s 102-93 win over the Los Angeles Clippers in Barclays Center. Joe Johnson and Andray Blatche led the way with 21 points each but Williams again set the tone.
“Deron’s play is just dictating how we’re coming out and starting games,’’ said Kevin Garnett. “He’s pushing the pace. He’s being Deron Williams. I really feel like that’s the difference.’’
He turned in his second straight stellar performance – a 15-point, five-rebound, four-assist, point guard clinic. Williams also held Chris Paul, who had 12 points and 13 assists in the Clippers 110-103 win over the Nets on Nov. 16, to 20 points on 6-of- 13 shooting and just two assists, his lowest output of the season.
“They’re a good team, a good test for us,’’ said Williams. “And Chris Paul is definitely the head of that snake. He does so many great things for that team.’’
Call it Viper Night in Barclays Center.
The Nets, now 8-14 and winners of three straight, are looking more like the Eastern Conference championship contenders we expected. The difference has been a healthy Williams, a Williams that is, as the Nets say each time they end practice, ‘All in!’
While Williams was recuperating from his second sprained left ankle of the season, the Nets underwent some significant changes. Coach Jason Kidd determined that the Nets would be better served with center Brook Lopez being the focal point of the offense.
That has been D-Will’s role since coming to the Nets.
Almost every move GM Billy King has made – the trade for Joe Johnson, the trade for Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and Pierce – have been done with goal of surrounding Williams with a championship team.
So as important as the Nets victory over the Celtics was because it marked the first back-to-back wins of the season, the fact that Williams saw he could flourish in Kidd’s Lopez-centric offense was more important in the long run.
A disgruntled Williams could have made for a poisonous snake in the Nets locker room. But in the Boston win, in which the Nets did go to Lopez early and often – he had 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting, Williams had a season-high and a game-high 25 points.
“I knew how important my role is, especially seeing us struggle,’’ said Williams. “I’ve never felt like my role is diminished or wasn’t there. I just felt like I needed to play better.’’
Thursday night the Nets scored 33 field goals off 18 assists.
“We’re trusting,’’ said Kevin Garnett. “For the first time in a long time I can honestly say that.’’
The Clippers are led by Paul, the fourth player picked in the 2005 draft. Williams was the third player picked. Their careers will be linked, and ultimately defined, by whose team has the most success.
Neither has won an NBA title.
The Clippers also have taken care in dealing with Paul. They resigned forward Blake Griffin and then lured coach Doc Rivers from the Celtics. It paved the way for them to sign Paul to a five-year, $107 million deal this summer.
Paul is second in the league in double-doubles, including the one he had against the Nets in L.A. when Williams was one of four injured starters who didn’t play.
Thursday night Williams and Paul looked like two rattlesnakes vying for position to eat the last rodent in the cage. The feigned and faked, struck and retreated, often leaving the other grasping for air.
On this night, Williams had stronger venom, which is good medicine for the Nets.
NOTES: Brook Lopez tweaked his left ankle again and was sent to the locker room but the injury does not appear serious.
Paul Pierce again came off the bench and played a savvy game. He had 10 points, seven rebounds, five assists and one steal. Kevin Garnett only had two points and six rebounds in 15 minutes but he beat on Blake Griffin who finished with 12 points on 2-of-8 shooting and 11 rebounds.