Nets fall in Williams' home debut

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams played the part of protagonist to perfection on Monday night, overcoming injury, valiantly returning to the floor, and leading his team back into battle for a possible come-from-behind win in his home debut.

It almost seemed too good to be true. Scripted perhaps.

Better than Russell Crowe’s performance as Maximus in Williams’ favorite movie, “Gladiator.”

But in the end, an unlikely antagonist emerged, preventing Williams from capping off an Oscar-worthy performance. Even though head coach Avery Johnson wanted one, there would be no storybook ending on this night.

Channing Frye’s 3-pointer with 6.6 seconds remaining, combined with Williams’ missed runner as time expired and Kris Humphries’ tip-in that fell through the net a tenth of a second too late proved to be the difference, as the Phoenix Suns emerged with a 104-103 overtime victory over the deflated and dejected Nets and their deflated and dejected crowd of 15,386.

“Yeah, that’s what you like to see, guys fighting out there,” said Williams, who overcame a bruised left hand and a strained tendon in his right wrist to score 13 points, dish out a season-high 18 assists and snag five rebounds in 39 minutes. “We battled. We never gave up. We got down by a couple points [in regulation], I think we were down seven with a couple minutes left, but we battled. [Anthony] Morrow hit some big shots. I thought that Brook [Lopez] played unbelievable tonight. He hit some shots. Kris came in and played great on both ends of the floor. We just made a couple mistakes defensively.”

If Martin Scorsese were the director, perhaps the Nets would’ve switched on the pick and pop, closed out on Frye, and contested his shot. Or maybe, Frye's shot would’ve fallen and Williams would’ve gone down at the other end and found a way to get his desperation flip to drop after evading two trapping defenders. Or maybe, Williams would’ve missed and Humphries' tip would’ve ripped the chord right before the backboard’s red light illuminated.

That would’ve been the storybook ending Johnson wanted. And yet, it wasn’t in this script. It just wasn’t meant to be.

“The play with Frye, you know, it’s something that we went over and we just kind of missed the switch and hopefully next time we’ll just execute better defensively," Johnson said. "We showed the guys after the game and they felt real bad, but they don’t feel as bad as I do for them because they really battled tonight. I’m disappointed that we came up on the losing end.”

Long after Williams was given the rockstar treatment by the contingent of white-clad fans wearing t-shirts bearing his name and number during his pre-game introduction, and long after he was showered with "MVP! MVP!" chants, though, a loss seemed like a mere formality.

That is, until Morrow decided he was going to take over.

The 25-year-old sharpshooter scored the Nets' last nine points during the final 22 seconds of the fourth quarter, turning a seven-point deficit into a 96-all deadlock after he drained three free throws after being fouled with 2.7 seconds left, which sent the game into the extra session.

“Morrow hit some big shots and free throws to give us a chance to win,” Williams said. “That’s a player stepping up at the right time.”

Ever since being acquired by the Nets last Wednesday, Williams has been the one stepping up. Despite having to deal with the uncertainty surrounding both his immediate and long-term future, Williams has acclimated himself to Johnson’s system like a consummate professional.

In fact, during Monday’s morning shootaround, the Nets implemented an entirely new offense system, based around Williams’ tenure with the Jazz. And no surprise, he picked it up to near perfection.

That’s what separates the two-time All-Star from other players -- aside from his uncanny ability to be a facilitator and playmaker. The 26-year-old is one quick study. How else do you explain his 47 assists in his first three games with his new squad?

“He told me from day one [Avery] wanted to integrate some of the stuff I did in Utah,” Williams said. “He said he liked that stuff. It’s a good system in Utah. When I came in to shootaround, he had some plays up and asked me if I liked them. We ran them pretty well tonight.”

Well enough to shoot 47.2 percent from the floor and score 103 points. Just not well enough to earn the "W."

“It’s what you live for,” said Humphries, who scored 15 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and had one SportsCenter-worthy block on Robin Lopez in the second quarter. “We practice hard to be in those situations and unfortunately defensively we weren’t able to execute what we wanted to do down the stretch on that play where he hit the three and a few things.”

Williams would’ve liked a victory. The fans and the organization -- who have aspirations of signing him to a multi-year contract extension -- would’ve like one for him.

They packed the arena to see their gladiator in action. And despite taking a few blows -- and inflicting some of his own -- Williams gutted it out until the end.

“The fans were great tonight,” Williams said. “Still looking for a sellout, but it was good. They were great. We tried to get them a win, we just came up a little short.”

A defensive stop, a made shot by Williams and a made free throw by Lopez right before Frye became the hero would've changed the outcome.

The protagonist was supposed to win. But the antagonist would have none of it.

That's why the Suns were able to escape, leaving Williams and the Nets to bemoan what could've been.

If only it were a movie.