The Brooklyn Nets continued their turnaround Sunday night at the Barclays Center, but this time it was a little different. The Nets surged to 6-0 in the new year, but they accomplished the feat against an Indiana Pacers team they are trailing in the standings.
The Nets opened 2013 with arguably their best game to date, a blowout win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Otherwise, they have been getting healthy against the Washington Wizards, Sacramento Kings, and Phoenix Suns of the world.
Their 97-86 win against the Pacers meant a little more, though.
Not only did the Nets overcome a few injuries in the process, they bucked the trends that have haunted this team long since New Jersey. And this team, they followed the lead of their captain, Deron Williams.
“When he’s confident, we’re a confident team,” said Joe Johnson, who scored 20 points. “It just goes to show he’s leading us in the right direction.”
Williams entered Sunday night’s contest as a question mark due to a right thigh contusion. With the team already missing Gerald Wallace with bruised ribs, Williams felt the pressure of playing in this litmus test game.
“I knew he was going to play,” Johnson added. “I think he was just pulling my leg (saying he wasn’t going to play). I think he was just trying to get me worried.”
He passed with flying colors, just as he has since P.J. Carlesimo took the reigns.
Williams finished with 22 points, nine assists, and five rebounds in a game the Nets desperately wanted. The Pacers traveled to Brooklyn off a 96-88 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers Saturday night.
“This was a big game for us,” Williams said. “Given who it was, an Indiana team that’s been playing really good basketball and you know who’s going to be in the playoffs. We needed this game.”
With a tired team sitting 1.5 games ahead in the standings, the Nets seized the opportunity. Williams kickstarted a 17-0 run to open the fourth quarter that virtually KO’d the Pacers.
Williams scored four points and dished out four assists in the final frame. He also played 11:28, only sitting down with 32 seconds left in the game when Carlesimo subbed him out to a standing ovation from the Brooklyn faithful.
“More vocal, he’s just really leading by going out and really playing hard night in and night out,” Johnson said. “He’s been pretty banged up this whole year so the fact that he only missed one game, but other than that, he’s stepping out and playing.”
For Williams, it’s easy to play in this atmosphere.
“As a whole, I think we’re just encouraging each other right now,” Williams said. “We’re having fun and we’re enjoying playing together. That’s the most important thing.”
Under Carlesimo, Williams has played in a less constrained offense. The ball is moving and the hurried shots to beat the clock are waning. The player who admitted to struggling has seen a reversal of fortune.
Teammate Kris Humphries never worried about Williams, though.
“He’s shooting the ball with confidence but I’ve seen him play for a long time,” Humphries said. “You always know he’s going to come around.
“I’m never worried about Deron.”
Despite multiple injuries, Williams has started to resemble the Utah point guard Billy King traded for in 2011. With a little more rest, the nagging injuries to his ankle and wrist are starting to subside.
“I’m pretty confident,” Williams said. “I think early on what hurt me was I just wanted to practice so much. I kind of feel like I’m soft because I don’t practice with my teammates all through practice. I’ve just been a lot smarter lately... That’s a big key for me. I’m more confident just because I know I’m not as injured.