NEW YORK -- Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens spent the past 48 hours telling anyone that would listen that the Brooklyn Nets were a different team with Deron Williams. He descried the difference as “night and day” and pegged Williams one of the best players in the NBA.
Turns out he wasn’t just pumping his tires.
In Williams' first game back after missing 11 of the Nets' previous 12 games, Williams scored 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting with seven assists and three rebounds over 37 minutes. The Celtics had no answer for big man Brook Lopez (18 points) over the first three quarters, but it was Williams that helped generate easy looks for the 7-footer and controlled the game in the fourth frame.
“I think you saw what I was talking about with Williams,” said Stevens. “End of the shot clock, guy makes a play, driving it in, kicking -- he made huge plays, I thought, for them. And, probably the most important thing was, when we got after them in the backcourt, they subbed him in, which was a good move. And they handled [the defensive pressure] better with him on the floor. I thought he was the biggest difference in the game, though the obvious difference was also Lopez’s size.”
If you’re a Celtics fan, the spin you put on it: Imagine how good Boston can be when it gets its own All-Star point guard back in Rajon Rondo.
A few more notes from Brooklyn’s triumph:
THE KG EFFECT: Stevens might not have got a chance to coach Kevin Garnett in Boston, but he now knows the perils of coaching against him. “They took us out of what we wanted to do, Garnett specifically,” said Stevens. “Defensively, he did some really good things that took us out of what we wanted to do on a couple of occasions. Credit them, like I said, we weren’t playing the [Brooklyn] Nets that played without D-Will for those  games. That is their team and they are a good basketball team. You add [Andrei] Kirilenko to it and it’s scary."
C’S GO DOWN SWINGING: Stevens had a thin layer of perspiration around his face when he arrived for his postgame press conference outside the visitor’s locker room; it's about as sweaty as reporters have seen him after a game. That was likely a product of feverishly coaching Boston’s late rally (and the occasional bark at the officials down the stretch). Despite the loss, Stevens liked how his team went down swinging. “I thought we fought. I thought we played hard, I thought we played with effort,” said Stevens. “I didn’t think we played well, but I thought [the Nets] had a lot to do with it. I’m not going to get caught up in, necessarily, the little things as far as how we feel after winning or losing. I think you have to get caught up in, we came here, we took a really good shot from a really good team on their home court and played competitively, really competitively most of the night, when we could have gone away at points.”
TOUGH TO SLOW LOPEZ: Lopez finished with 18 points on 10-of-13 shooting, much of his output coming in the first half when he simply bullied his way to the basket with none of Boston's big truly able to offer much resistance. The Celtics managed to slow Lopez in the fourth quarter with double teams, but the damage had been done. "Brook is tough," said Jared Sullinger. "He’s a big dude. I mean, he’s what 7-1? It’s kinda hard to even contest his shot because he’s just shooting right over us." Echoed Wallace: “He’s 7-foot. He gives everybody in the league a hard time. ... We tried to do as much as we could to keep the ball out of his hands and control him on the block, but he’s a great player and an All-Star and he did what he’s supposed to do."