Williams pours in 28 in Brooklyn's ninth straight home win
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Was it a dunk or wasn’t it?
That was the question percolating around the red-hot Nets’ locker room following Monday night’s 108-95 victory over the Phoenix Suns in front of 17,401 fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
Deron Williams highlighted a brilliant 28-point, 11-of-13 shooting effort with a less-than-emphatic dunk during the fourth quarter as the Nets cruised to their season-high ninth consecutive home victory.
The $98 million point guard, who has been hampered by ankle issues for most of the franchise’s first two seasons in our fair borough, also grabbed three rebounds, dished out four assists and picked up three steals, extending his NBA season-high streak for swipes to 15 games.
For the second straight campaign, Williams appears to have found his game and his jump following a cortisone shot in the ankle in January, as well as platelet rich plasma injections into the lateral ligaments of the joint.
Williams attempted a dunk during Saturday night’s 101-94 loss in Washington, suffering the embarrassment of rejecting himself when the ball bounded back off the rim.
This time, following a steal and feed from Andrei Kirilenko, Williams once again rose to the challenge of driving one home.
The ball rattled round the rim a bit before falling through, all but putting the Suns away and opening the locker-room discussion as to whether or not the basket qualified as a legitimate dunk.
“Well, we are trying to debate if that was a dunk,” first-year head coach Jason Kidd jibed during his post-game press conference after the Nets improved to 8-2 in their last 10 contests overall. “You have to ask him if that was a dunk.”
Williams, whose second straight second-half emergence has lifted Brooklyn (34-31) back into serious contention for the Atlantic Division crown, fired back at his coach with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
“He was never a dunker in his day either,” he noted. “Coach is supposed to have your back. I can’t do anything but shake my head, man. He’s supposed to say something like, ‘I’m proud of him’ or ‘It’s a monumental moment.’”
The monumental achievements for the Nets keep piling up following a dismal 10-21 start during which they looked nothing like a championship, or even a playoff, contender.
Brooklyn is an Eastern Conference-best 24-10 since Jan. 1, and perhaps even more impressively, the Nets boast an 11-3 mark against Western Conference opponents since the start of 2014.
They’ll try to continue their longest home winning streak since moving into the Barclays Center on Wednesday night against Charlotte before closing out their three-game homestand Friday against Boston.
Kevin Garnett sat out his ninth straight game Monday due to back spasms, but the Nets improved to 7-2 without “The Big Ticket”, and Kidd revealed afterward that his starting center would be absent from the lineup until at least Sunday, when Brooklyn visits Dallas.
Rookie Mason Plumlee has done a solid job filling the middle in Garnett’s absence, and was one of five Nets starters to finish in double figures against the Suns, collecting 14 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
Plumlee, the team’s undisputed king of dunk, had the final word on judging Williams’ first stuff of the season.
''I'm going to give it to him,'' Plumlee sheepishly ceded. ''He's gone up about three times now with great courage. If at first you don't succeed, keep trying. This one, I mean it rattled in, so he didn't get the flush, but he got a dunk. There's a difference.''
There’s also a big difference in how Williams is feeling these days.
“Yeah, I’m definitely feeling better,” he revealed. “I’m still not jumping that high as you can tell, but I’m definitely feeling better and more confident every day. Now, I’m just trying to get that confidence to continue.”
All kidding aside, his coach also believes Williams is rounding into shape as the Nets make what they hope will be a memorable push toward and well into the postseason.
“He was great tonight,” Kidd said. “I think he’s healthy. He looked good. He was attacking and setting the table for his teammates. I think he had an overall pretty good game.”
Joe Johnson scored 19 points, Shaun Livingston added 12 and Paul Pierce had 10 for Brooklyn, which moved within three-games of first-place Toronto but remained sixth overall in the East behind the Wizards.
Nothing But Nets: After inking F Jason Collins for the remainder of the season, the Nets also signed G Jorge Gutierrez to a 10-day deal on Monday and Kidd put him to the test right away. Gutierrez picked up a rebound and an assist in 7:45, missing his only shot. “Well, I wanted to see if he could play,” Kidd said of his decision to his newest player only hours after his official arrival on the roster. “I don’t just want to sign someone for 10 days or 20 days and not give him the opportunity to play. It’s not fair for us or for him.” … Livingston established new career highs for minutes played and points scored in a season Monday night with 1,617 and 506, respectively. The lanky guard has been one of general manager Billy King’s greatest finds in free agency and continues to bolster the Nets’ backcourt on a nightly basis. “Incredible. It’s a great story all around,” Kidd said of Livingston, who suffered a brutal knee injury, one that threatened to derail his career, when he was with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2007. “He’s a great person on and off the court and he deserves everything that he’s been recognized for.”