Even when Deron Williams was struggling -- and he struggled all the way up until the All-Star break -- Brooklyn Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said time and time again that his $98 million franchise point guard was the player he was least concerned about.
Well, P.J., you were right.
Since taking a week off to rest, partake in a three-day juice cleanse and receive his third set of cortisone shots in both of his inflamed ankles, Williams has transformed into an elite performer.
On Saturday night, D-Will poured in a game-high 32 points -- 20 in the second half -- to will the Nets past the feisty Charlotte Bobcats 105-96 at Barclays Center. In his past two games, Williams has scored 62 points -- 40 of them in the second half.
“I think I’m definitely being more aggressive,” Williams said when asked about being the go-to guy down the stretch. “I think that while Joe [Johnson] is working his way back and getting back to form, I have to be able to take over. I’m one of the guys that can create his own shot, create for others, and I’m just looking to do that.”
For the majority of Saturday night’s game, the Nets played just bad enough to lose to a Charlotte team that came in with an 18-58 record. They shot 5-for-21 from 3-point range and could not contain Ben Gordon or Gerald Henderson, who combined for 49 points.
So it came as no surprise when their nine-point lead was trimmed to one with 1:19 left.
But that’s when D-Will made it happen once again. With the shot clock winding down, Williams hit an impossible turnaround jumper that felt like it hit every part of the rim before falling through the net.
“I didn’t know if it was going to go in or out,” said Williams, who went 11-for-18 from the field and 8-for-8 from the free throw stripe and added six assists in 36 minutes. “It was right there, but I’m glad it did.”
“The shot that rolled in was huge,” Carlesimo said. “Anytime we’re in a one-possession game, anything can happen.”
The Nets (44-32) ultimately closed the game on a 10-2 run, and increased their slim lead over the Chicago Bulls (42-33) for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race to a game and a half. It was Brooklyn’s first home win since March 8.
“It was a big win,” Williams said. “I said after our last loss [to Chicago on Thursday night] that we needed to get one at home and get our confidence going.”
In his past 23 games, Williams is averaging 23 points and 7.9 assists with 48 percent shooting -- 42.9 percent from 3-point range. He is just one made 3-pointer from tying Kerry Kittles’ single-season franchise record (158).
“It’s a tribute to see how hard he’s worked on and off the floor, but it was expected,” Carlesimo said. “I was just not worried about Deron or Joe all season because we had a lot more to worry about.”