Here we go again…or at least that’s how it feels.
With the series deadlocked at two games apiece, tonight’s pivotal Game 5 between the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre could determine who will eventually advance to the next round. As noted prior to the series, the most significant matchup I felt was between the two point guards – Deron Williams and Kyle Lowry. In the games in which the Nets have won so far, Williams has asserted himself and dictated the flow of the game. Unfortunately, Nored (the bizarro Deron) has also made an appearance in this series. [Which Passport is Williams Bringing?]
Although the statistics are virtually identical throughout the first four games, there just seems to be a difference between the type of impact Williams and Lowry bring to the court. By simply looking at the tale of the tape, you would assume that Williams would win this matchup; however, what Lowry lacks in physical attributes, he is able to make up with non-quantifiable intangibles. Lowry plays bigger than his 6-foot, 205 pound frame, as he attacks the basket and fights for rebounds. What’s more impressive is that he has been hobbled by injuries and is still producing.
As a Net fan, I am actually jealous of what the Raptor fan base has in their point guard. Lowry’s gritty, blue-collar style emanates heart and passion to the rest of his teammates. He knows exactly how to play to and electrify the crowd. Lowry seems to embrace the underdog role and doesn’t back down from anyone guarding him or the spotlight. His opponent on the other side of the court appears to consistently flip-flop between being aggressive and uncertain.
Is Deron simply not a leader? This has appeared to be the case since the move to Brooklyn, but if you consider his track record dating back to college, his floor generalship (or lack thereof) in a Nets’ uniform contradicts what he once demonstrated. This is what has made his tenure with the Nets so maddening.
During his junior season at the University of Illinois, Williams helped lead The Fighting Illini to the 2005 National Championship Game where they eventually lost to the University of North Carolina. His team, which also featured Dee Brown and Luther Head, began the season 29-0 and ended up with a record of 37 wins with only two defeats. Brown earned first team All-American honors, whereas Williams and Head both were named to the second team.
Some may forget that in the Elite Eight matchup with the University of Arizona, the Illini found themselves trailing by 15 points in the final four minutes. It was Williams who led the comeback to force overtime and eventually win. Against a stronger North Carolina opponent in the title game, it was Williams and Head who rallied Illinois back from a big halftime deficit before coming up short in the end.
Following the impressive tournament run, Williams entered the NBA Draft and was selected third overall by the Utah Jazz. By his second season in Utah, the Jazz had clearly found their replacement for John Stockton.
Under their new point guard’s leadership, the Jazz compiled a 206-122 regular season record from 2006-2010. In addition, they experienced great success during that four-year period in the postseason, mostly due in part to Williams’s performance. The peak for the Jazz during those postseasons was advancing to the Western Conference Finals in 2007 before losing to San Antonio.
Interestingly, three of the four teams that defeated them went on to win the title – Spurs (2007), Lakers (2009 & 2010). The Laker team which eliminated Utah in the 2008 semifinals ultimately lost to the Celtics in the NBA Finals.
So what was the point of bringing up all of this history?
Clearly Deron Williams has proven that he can be successful and lead his teams beyond the first round. Those Utah teams featured a talented roster, but keep in mind that he was early in his career and never had the supporting cast that surrounds him now in Brooklyn.
In last year’s postseason he played admirably against the Chicago Bulls evident by the following statistics during that seven game series:
The obvious blemish was that his team failed to advance past an opponent who was decimated by injuries and reliant on inferior talent. Having the home court advantage in that decisive seventh game went for naught and the season ended in disappointment. Being the leader of the team, the onus fell mostly on Deron Williams as he was the quarterback of that Nets team and that position assumes the responsibility for both the good and the bad.
With the exception of the first half of Game 1, most of this series against Toronto has featured the Deron who Brooklyn fans feared would show up. Whether it was the missing those two late free throws in Game 3 or failing to execute a fluid fourth quarter offense in Game 4, Williams is once again showing that he may not be fit to lead this team deep into this postseason.
When you shell out a maximum contract for a player in professional sports, there is a certain level of consistent production expected. These players are supposed to be your building blocks – your foundation – your constants. Surely everyone has an off night, but it just seems that these mishaps always seem to find Deron Williams.
For 98 million dollars, the Nets organization believed that they were buying a reliable franchise player to lead them towards a championship. As of this moment in time, Williams may just be the most expensive x-factor in all of sports. [The Little Engine That Should].
Trust me when I say that I do not take pride in writing about this topic one bit.
Even with a supremely talented roster from top to bottom, equipped with championship experience, the fate of the Brooklyn Nets still lies in the hands of the same player who once lead his collegiate team to the national title game and his former NBA team deep into the post season.
There isn’t a lot of time for Deron to figure this thing out. His team needs him to bring his A-game from here on out consistently, not intermittently. He’ll say the right things off the court about “needing to play better”, but it’s time for Deron to let his game do the talking.
After all, actions always speak louder than words.