NEW YORK — Deron Williams had scored five total points on 2-of-15 shooting over the last two games of Brooklyn’s first-round playoff series against the Hawks, and was benched for the entire fourth quarter of Saturday’s Game 3, which the Nets won more due to an uncharacteristically lackluster Atlanta performance than because of anything else.
But Williams figuratively rose from the dead on Monday, and turned in an incredible performance to lead his team to a 120-115 overtime victory which evened the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.
“It’s very satisfying,” Nets head coach Lionel Hollins said of Williams afterward. “The kid has overcome a lot of adversity, with the injuries and with the negativity around his name. For him to come out showed a lot of character to put on a performance like that, especially when we needed it. Because without that performance, I don’t know if we get out of here with a win. I’ll take it, and I’m excited about it.”
Williams finished with 35 points, five rebounds, seven assists and three steals, and scored 16 in the fourth quarter while making some incredibly difficult shots. He had been buried by the media in recent days, and Hollins, unprompted, jumped to his defense at Sunday’s practice.
“I’m disappointed in how everybody’s coming down on Deron and trying to treat him like he’s a pariah,” Hollins told reporters. “Deron’s a good person, he’s a good player. Now, is he on the level that you guys think he should be? That’s your fault for thinking that somebody should be something.”
“No player is the same as he was four years ago,” Hollins continued. “All I’m saying is the guy has played well and somebody picks out that he has two points. So what? He played well. It’s not just about the scoring. There’s a lot of teams that would be better because they have some guys who score a lot of points. But it’s about winning, it’s about doing the right things for the team. And I’ll defend Deron till the end on that and all my players to the end.”
On this night, no defense of Deron was needed. He started off hot with 11 first-quarter points, and set the tone early for his teammates by playing with a high level of aggressiveness. The Hawks were largely unfazed, however, and went on a run in the second quarter to erase an eight-point deficit and take a six-point lead into the halftime intermission.
One particular play stood out — a fast break opportunity where Atlanta pushed the ball, and zipped three quick passes around to create a wide open corner three for Mike Scott, which he calmly knocked down. These were the Hawks that won 60 games during the regular season, and it appeared as though they might have returned in time to take control of the series.
Atlanta carried its strong play through the third, where it pushed the lead to as many as 12 points. The Hawks dominated the period by knocking down 13 of their 20 shot attempts, and hitting the offensive glass hard to rebound all but two of their misses.
But Williams opened the fourth quarter by hitting back-to-back threes and a step-back jumper to cut the lead to three, while singlehandedly bringing his team back. He made a lot of tough shots, but the craziest came with his team trailing by two and just under two minutes to play. The shot clock was winding down, and he was being hounded by Jeff Teague some 35 feet from the basket.
And then, this happened.
“I said thank god,” Hollins remarked, when discussing the shot that was characterized as a prayer in a postgame question. “We needed it, and it was answered.”
It was by no means the game’s deciding play; that would have been this one from Thaddeus Young, an and-1 floater with just under a minute to play in the overtime session. But it was one of the most important in terms of keeping the Nets in it long enough to eventually emerge victorious.
“I honestly don’t know what happened,” Williams said of his shot-clock-buzzer-beating shot. “I just knew the clock was winding down, I had to get a shot off and it felt good as soon as it left my hand.”
Williams never responds publicly to criticism, and seems to take any negative comments in stride — including some that came from his former teammate Paul Pierce just before the postseason began. But he does hear them, and when someone like his head coach takes up publicly for him, the kindness doesn’t go unnoticed.
“It definitely means a lot,” Williams said of Hollins defending him. “I thanked him today after the game, and it means a lot when your coach, when you’re struggling like that, when your coach comes out and defends you the way he did, it definitely means a lot. It says a lot about how much he cares about not only me, but this team and our players.”
Hollins has been able to turn the negativity surrounding Williams early in this series into a huge positive, which has galvanized his team in the process. Williams was able to respond on the court with a transcendent Game 4 performance, and hopes to build on it the rest of the way.
“I just want to keep being aggressive like this throughout the series,” Williams said. “We evened it up, we’re playing better as a team, and we’re figuring things out. So I just need to keep being aggressive like this.”
Nets use 18-0 second-half run to secure Game 3 victory over Hawks
NEW YORK — The Hawks came into Game 3 having won the first two games of their first-round series against the Nets, just as a 60-win team facing one that finished the year six games below .500 should.
But this isn’t the same Atlanta squad that won 40 of its first 48 games of the season, and as evident as that was during those first two victories that were more closely-contested than expected, that fact became crystallized during Saturday’s demoralizing loss.
“I think they came out with a lot of energy and a lot of activity, and maybe forced some turnovers,” Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer said afterward. “And I don’t think our rhythm, our pace and all the things we do … I don’t think we started well, and they had something to do with that.”
The Nets jumped on the Hawks early, getting out to a first quarter lead of as many as 15 points. Brooklyn had given back all of it after halftime, however, and trailed by four with under three minutes to play in the third.
But the Hawks’ lack of execution returned at the worst possible time.
An 18-0 run from late in the third until midway through the fourth proved to be the difference, and Brooklyn held on for a 91-83 victory to cut their deficit in the series to two games to one.
The slow start was less than ideal, especially against a Nets team that played well enough in Atlanta to nearly steal Game 2 on the road. But the problems with the Hawks run much deeper than that.
The crisp level of ball movement that Atlanta dazzled with during the first part of the season has disappeared far too often in the playoffs. And that is of much greater concern to the top-seeded Hawks than allowing the Nets a glimmer of hope by letting them back into this series.
Jeff Teague, who was 4-of-13 from the field to finish with 13 points, six assists and four turnovers, believes his team is a long way away from playing the elite style of basketball we saw during the regular season.
“Very far,” he said, when asked how far away the Hawks were from the best basketball they played earlier in the year. “We’re not playing well at all. We’re due for a game, so hopefully next game we’ll get back to our normal self.”
Kyle Korver was limited to just two points on 1-of-8 shooting, which included going 0-for-5 from three-point distance. After being such a key component in the first two games of this series, the Nets stifled him in Game 3 — despite Lionel Hollins at one point downplaying Korver’s significance.
“We were ready for him coming off screens,” Hollins said. “He had a couple open shots that he missed, and when you scramble on a team that hard consistently … when you get open, you’re rushing your shot a little bit.”
“I didn’t really get any good looks early, and probably was pressing a little late,” Korver said. “I was trying to make something happen, but there just wasn’t a whole lot there for me tonight.”
The victory for the Nets validated what they believed at times through the first two games of the series, which was that they can compete with this Hawks team, despite the disparity in their respective fortunes during the regular season.
“I think we knew we could beat this team,” Joe Johnson said afterward.
The win came on a night where they shot just 38.6 percent from the field, and Deron Williams didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter; it was unclear whether it was because he wasn’t right physically, or because he was so ineffective that he was hurting his team’s chances.
At the same time, it’s becoming painfully clear to this Hawks team that they’re no longer the juggernaut they once were. As Brooklyn is finding its way, Atlanta seems to be slipping further and further from the early-season identity it established as a dominant team that shared the ball, and consistently created open looks for shooters within the confines of its equal-opportunity offense.
“We haven’t been sharp offensively for a little while now,” Korver said. “Maybe this will kind of jar some things and we’ll figure some things out, and play with a little more purpose and a little better on Monday.”
Or maybe, the issues that exist aren’t ones which can be fixed that easily.
Nets with beautiful basketball sequence to end first quarter of Game 3 vs. Hawks (VIDEO)
NEW YORK — The Nets played inspired basketball during the first quarter of their critical Game 3 matchup with the Hawks, and this sequence epitomized that somewhat perfectly.
Deron Williams and Jarrett Jack both made great efforts to save the ball inbounds, and once they got to the other end of the floor, Jack and Joe Johnson worked together on a beautiful give-and-go, before Jack found Brook Lopez for the two-handed slam.
Brooklyn led 31-16 after the game’s first 1 minutes.