The goal was to write about Deron Williams. No intention of discussing ... you know.
It began with a quick e-mail to Deron Williams after yet another of his impressive performances, a query about what drives him.
"I hate to lose!!!!!!" he responded. "That's it."
I hate to lose.
Man. That's the exact same thing Chris Paul said to me (give or take six exclamation points) when I asked him a similar question during last year's playoffs. So here we go again. Deron Williams and Chris Paul. D-Will and CP3. The undercard in the great LeBron versus Kobe debate.
With Williams and Paul, their model types and driving styles are so different that we never think they might have identical engines underneath.
Paul's game is enthralling. He's still the only NBA player I've ever flown halfway across the country just to watch in person.
If Paul dazzles, Williams slowly wins you over, like a skilled lawyer building his case. And for now the best evidence in Williams' favor is how his teams go deeper into the postseason than Paul's teams. In college, Williams took Illinois to the NCAA championship game and spearheaded the comeback from a 15-point deficit to Arizona with four minutes remaining in a 2005 regional final. Paul never made it past the Sweet 16 while at Wake Forest.
Williams and the Utah Jazz have won 15 Western Conference playoff games the past two seasons, second only to the San Antonio Spurs in that span. While Paul took the Hornets to the second round last season, Williams had already been to the conference finals the year before.
I like Paul as much as the next guy (well, maybe not as much as a guy who compares him to Magic Johnson -- that's trespassing on sacred ground for me). But it's hard to ignore what Williams and the Jazz have done. And you can't forget the way Williams has dominated Paul in their head-to-head matchups.
We've seen the Jazz come together lately, winning 12 games in a row before the streak ended in Atlanta on Wednesday night, as Andrei Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer returned to action to give Utah its full complement of players. But the only reason the Jazz remained within striking distance of the Northwest Division lead is Williams.
I like how he's always in the middle of the court during offensive sets. He's always right where a point guard is supposed to be. You don't see him in the corner or way out beyond the 3-point line, where he'd look as out of place as a nun in a mosh pit. You do see him making plays, seeming to have a hand in everything that goes Utah's way in victories.
Sunday in Toronto he hit the deck to grab a loose ball, and then, while seated, fed Kirilenko for a layup in a play that reminded me of the one Magic makes at the 1:40 mark of this highlight montage. And that's as far as I'll go in making any Magic comparisons. Tell any aspirants to the throne to fill in at center in a Finals game, win five championships and set the career assists record ... maybe after all that we can hold a discussion.
I will say that Williams has a lot of John Stockton to him (much more so than Boozer has any Karl Malone) in that he keeps making winning plays. Williams scored or assisted on six of Utah's last eight baskets as the Jazz completed a comeback from an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter at Toronto.
Williams can do only so much. Utah's loss in Atlanta on Wednesday night served as a reminder that the Jazz are not as athletic as most opponents they face. The Jazz don't have anyone who soars at the same altitude as Josh Smith, who blocked shots and threw down dunks all night. They didn't have anyone who could guard Joe Johnson.
But they did have Williams, the main reason they even had a chance to win in the second of a back-to-back set of road games, the reason they're an opponent no one wants to see in the playoffs, the reason Chris Paul even faces another candidate in the discussion of the best point guard in the league.