NEW YORK -- P.J. Carlesimo was in the early hours of his surprise administration when his dear friend, Jim Boeheim, gave him a little piece of advice, a suggestion designed to help the interim coach of the Brooklyn Nets become a made man.
Deron Williams couldn't cope with Avery Johnson's system, compared it unfavorably to Jerry Sloan's system, and soon enough, Johnson was out of work, just like Sloan. Boeheim didn't want the same fate to claim his guy, so he made this point about a point guard the Syracuse coach got to know as an assistant on the U.S. Olympic team:
"Here's what you do, P.J. You call in Deron and you ask him, 'What offense do you want to run?' And then whatever he says, you run that offense."
Boeheim might've been laughing when he said it, but he wasn't really joking. And it took a while for Williams to run the Brooklyn offense the way Carlesimo had hoped, the way that would put P.J. in position to hold off another P.J. (Phil Jackson) and other high-profile job candidates who might strike Mikhail Prokhorov's fancy.
But everyone knows what happened next: Williams was getting ripped for being a doughy impostor, a shadow of what he'd been in Utah and a sorry excuse for a $100 million star before he altered the course of his Brooklyn career after the All-Star break. He'd lost weight, taken some cortisone shots and plasma-therapy treatment for his sore ankles and emerged as the franchise player the Nets thought they were getting way back when.
Williams carried his revitalized play into Game 1 against the Chicago Bulls, pulling off a double-pump reverse dunk and toying with a Tom Thibodeau defense that's sometimes worthy of comparison to the '85 Bears. "He's rolling right now," Thibodeau said before Monday night's Game 2, and there was little reason to believe Williams wouldn't continue the roll to a 2-0 series lead.
Thibodeau raved about the opposing quarterback right before tipoff, enough to wonder if it was something of a setup. "I think he's gotten his explosion back," the Bulls coach said, "and he's such a big guard, very powerful, quick Just the way he's moving, you can tell he's gotten his confidence back.
"The ball's going down for him again, so that makes him that much harder to be guarded because you can't give him space It requires your whole team to be locked in, to be tied together, and that's all you can do, is try to make him work for everything."
So that's exactly what the Bulls did -- they made Williams work for everything in Game 2, crowding him and bumping him and contesting his every drive to the hole. As the league's best defensive coach, the Bill Belichick of his sport, Thibodeau decided to blitz and hit the quarterback as much as possible and give Williams a taste of "Monday Night Football."
The result? Two nights after he made nine of 15 shots and scored 22, Williams went one for nine and scored a lousy eight points in a dispiriting 90-82 loss at Barclays Center. Kirk Hinrich outplayed him on both sides of the ball. In fact, Williams wasn't even the best point guard in home colors; C.J. Watson outplayed him, too.
"We didn't play good. I didn't play good," Williams said at his locker afterward. "I'm not going to play like this again."
He can't play like this again, of course, if the Nets are to reach that second-round date with the Miami Heat that appeared booked after they pitched a perfect game in the opener Saturday night. Williams did have 10 assists, the 20th time he's hit double figures in the playoffs, but even he understood that his passes had little impact on the tone of the game.
"I didn't go to the basket enough, I don't think," he conceded. "I don't think I attacked enough tonight. I think I missed some shots early, and it kind of made me passive. And the way they were playing me, I just felt like I was getting doubled and I wasn't going to just try to force a lot of bad shots.
"I just wasn't aggressive enough."
And because he wasn't, the Brooklyn Nets might as well have been the New Jersey Nets. They showed no urgency, no passion and no willingness to match the fury of a wounded Bulls team that can barely keep Joakim Noah in uniform, never mind Derrick Rose.
So the Nets got Thibodeau'd before a subdued home crowd, with Williams at the centerpiece of a defensive gameplan meant to make him as uncomfortable as possible. Carlesimo said the Bulls did a better job of contesting his point guard's shots, of refusing to let him turn the corner on drives and of forcing him to pass out to Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson.
"They tried to keep me on one side of the floor," Williams added. "They definitely stayed with me longer on pick-and-rolls and tried to trap me a little bit. I'm going to look at the film and see where I can improve."
His teammates can do the same. The Nets shot two for 19 in the third quarter, scoring a grand total of 11 points. For the night, they took 82 field goal attempts and missed 53 of them.
But it all comes back to the franchise player, just like it does in Madison Square Garden. If Carmelo Anthony ever delivered a performance like this one -- one for nine in a playoff game -- he would've been booed back to Denver and told to never come back.
When it was over, Thibodeau offered another round of praise for Williams, calling him a smart and selfless player who demands different looks on defense. "I don't think you can give him a steady diet of anything," the winning coach said.
The Bulls gave him a steady diet of hip checks and forearm shivers and shoves, leaving him looking like the pre-All-Star-break Williams. At least Williams assumed full responsibility and promised it wouldn't happen again.
Carlesimo? He was breaking down Williams' game in his postgame news conference when he started veering toward that one for nine. "Obviously, we need, we need more," the Nets' coach started before pausing and executing a crossover dribble to a safer spot on the floor.
"We need a lot more offense from a number of more people than we got tonight."
No, Carlesimo wasn't calling out his best player in the middle of a playoff series that could decide whether the coach stays or goes. This is Deron Williams' offense, and the point guard will determine if the Nets are good enough to beat Tom Thibodeau's D.