DALLAS -- It was just a couple of jump shots late in the game, technically not even in a clutch situation.
But, man, did those buckets feel big for Deron Williams.
The Dallas Mavericks pretty much had the New Orleans Pelicans put away, but hitting the daggers sure felt sweet for the former All-Star point guard who is attempting to jump-start his career after he stalled out as a high-dollar bust in Brooklyn.
Just having the ball in his hands with a chance to close out a game is almost enough to make Williams’ chest puff out. It didn’t happen much as his play deteriorated with the Nets, and he has admitted that self-doubt crept in over the past couple seasons.
None of that was evident as Williams knocked down a couple of off-the-dribble, midrange jumpers to seal the Mavs’ 107-98 victory Saturday night.
“Any time you can hit the last couple and kind of close out the game and put it out of reach, it makes you feel good,” said Williams, who finished with a team-high 19 points. “I don’t like to talk about my time in Brooklyn, but a lot of times I was in the corner waiting and watching, so it felt good to just have the ball at the end of the game and be able to make a play.”
Those swishes seemed like huge strides for a point guard searching for a rhythm while in training-camp mode early in the regular season, robbed of a preseason by the kind of nagging injuries that were such a nuisance with the Nets.
It was the perfect way for Williams to wrap up a confidence-boosting second half in which he scored 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting, co-starring with Dirk Nowitzki just as folks in Dallas dreamed of when they offered Williams a max contract a few summers ago.
“For him to get that confidence back, to be that closer that he was in Utah, just that dog mentality, that’s only going to help us,” shooting guard Wesley Matthews said.
Williams did not arrive in Dallas with the pressure of justifying one of the league’s largest paychecks. That ended the second he agreed to a buyout of the final two seasons of his contract with Brooklyn. He can be just a piece for the Mavs after signing a one-year, $5.5 million deal with an insurance policy in the form of a player option for next season.
The move to the Mavs presents an opportunity for Williams to revive a career that appeared so promising not too long ago. But the pessimists, of which there are plenty, grew louder when Williams missed almost all of training camp while dealing with strains to both calves and then sprained his left knee during his Dallas debut.
Williams acknowledged this week that he was still getting acclimated to a new system and new teammates. He admitted he was “trying to get my legs under me,” struggling with conditioning after being forced to sit so much in September and October, plus managing a sore knee.
“That’s kind of how it’s been for me the last four years, so at least I’m used to it,” Williams said. “I’m just trying to get through it. I know at least this time, it’s nothing serious.”
Williams didn’t look sore during the second half. He didn’t look hesitant or tentative, either.
“It’s still a process,” Williams said. “I’m still getting there, but I definitely took a step in the right direction. I feel like I’m getting my bounce back a little bit.”
Sure, it probably helped matters that the Mavs were facing a winless team that was playing the butt end of a back-to-back. But this was the Williams the Mavs hoped they were getting when they welcomed the local product home in July.
Williams made plays off the dribble. He hit open jumpers. He worked out of the post. He pushed the pace and found his spots to attack in the Mavs’ flow offense, which he’s trying to get a feel for after sputtering as Brooklyn repeatedly changed systems.
“It’s pretty clear that his legs are getting under him better, his rhythm is getting better and the outside shots are looking more rhythmic,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He has to stay the course. He was tremendous tonight.”
Added Nowitzki, who scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half: “You can see what kind of talent he is. There are a lot of weapons in his arsenal.”
Williams will have ample opportunities to display those weapons in Dallas, if he’s able. Saturday night was a nice start.