Williams dribbled between his legs twice, then with his right hand before crossing over to his left.
Paul had no chance.
Williams got right past him, drove into the paint and flipped up a high-arcing layup. The ball caromed off the right side of the rim and hit the backboard before falling through the net.
Williams, the head of his team’s snake, the engine that makes his team run, is back.
So are the Nets.
Williams had his second consecutive dominant performance since returning from a sprained left ankle, scoring 12 of his 15 points in the second quarter, and the Nets rolled to a 102-93 victory over the Clippers on Thursday night at Barclays Center.
“He has to be our leader. Hands down,” teammate Paul Pierce said. “He changes the outlook of this team. We look like a whole different team now. We’re able to get easier baskets and put pressure on the defense.
“A lot of times we looked organized [while he was out], but with him out there as our leader and as a point guard, he’s getting us in the right spots and that’s what I envisioned.”
Williams, who added five rebounds and four assists in 27 minutes, missed nine straight games, but has averaged 20 points on 56 percent shooting since he’s come back. He looks very much like the player who carried the Nets in the second half of last season and nothing like the player who has been hurt and ineffective on so many occasions.
“Deron’s play is dictating how we’re coming out and starting games,” teammate Kevin Garnett said. “He’s pushing the pace, he’s directing, he’s leading. He’s being Deron Williams and I really feel like that’s the difference.”
Williams is now 15-5 all-time against Paul, who had 20 points but a season-low two assists. Defensively, the Nets (8-14) held the Clippers (15-9) to opponent season lows in field goal percentage (37.1) and made field goals (26).
“It’s great going against him,” Williams said of Paul. “He’s one of the best point guards in this game, one of the best players in this league. It’s a challenge every time I step on the court against him, and we’re friends so it’s fun to play against him.”
How close is Williams to being 100 percent?
“I’m getting there,” he replied. “I’m still getting my momentum and my body right.”