Williams helps Nets avenge dismal holiday loss with 101-93 victory in Boston
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The last time the Nets saw the Celtics, way back on Christmas Day, Deron Williams was scuffling through a myriad of injuries and citing his lack of comfort in coach Avery Johnson's offense as Brooklyn was in the midst of falling back to .500 following a November to remember.
Fast forward nearly four months to Wednesday night's fourth and final regular-season meeting between the Atlantic Division rivals, and the Nets, buoyed by William's brilliant post-All-Star break play, have left the Beantowners in the dust -- at least for now.
Brooklyn's $98 million point guard and undisputed floor leader scored 29 points, handed out 12 assists, buried all 10 of his free throws and moved the Nets one step closer to locking up home-court advantage in the opening round of the upcoming playoffs during a convincing 101-93 victory over the former five-time defending division champs before 18,624 fans at Boston's TD Garden.
"Since the All-Star break, Deron's been playing as well as anybody in this league. Not just point guards. Anybody," gushed veteran guard Jerry Stackhouse after contributing seven points, four rebounds and three assists to the Nets' 12th win in 18 games.
In what was likely the low point of their historic first season in our fair borough, the Celtics came to Barclays Center and spanked the Nets, 93-76, in a nationally televised Christmas Day encounter that proved to be Johnson's penultimate game on the Brooklyn sideline before he was rudely shown the door by team owner Mikhail Prokhorov and replaced by interim coach P.J. Carlesimo.
Williams, who shouldered some of the blame, fairly or not, for Johnson's exit, was deeply dejected following the X-mas Day Massacre on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.
''It was a big game for us. It was a division rival. We were ready for a big game. It just didn't happen,'' Williams said that afternoon after managing only 10 points in the defeat.
Twelve weeks later, it was Williams who was at the forefront of the Nets' attack as Brooklyn secured the regular-season series, 3-1, from Boston in the opener of a three-game road trip that will continue in Indiana on Friday night and Toronto on Sunday.
"I was just trying to make quick moves, one or two dribbles," noted Williams, who established a new franchise record for 3-pointers made with his 159th of the season. "Every game from here on out is huge for us."
With the win, Brooklyn cut its magic number for grabbing the coveted fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race to 2 with only four games remaining. Perhaps more importantly, the Nets showed the Celtics they're no longer a perennial Atlantic Division also-ran after failing to reach the postseason in each of the previous five campaigns.
''They came in with a better sense of urgency like the playoffs are around the corner, and we sort of eased into it,'' Boston forward and former NBA Finals MVP Paul Pierce lamented.
Of course, Williams wasn't alone in helping the Nets (46-32) sweep their annual two games in Boston.
All-Star center Brook Lopez scored 21 points, rebounding machine Reggie Evans ripped down 14 boards and Joe Johnson, working his way back from foot and quad injuries, finished with 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting.
"Our focus was excellent. I thought Reggie was excellent, Stack was incredible. Tonight, Joe was Joe Johnson. So many guys played well," said Carlesimo, who wouldn't bit when asked if it was satisfying to beat the Celtics on their home floor after the infamous Christmas Day loss. "It's different. They don't have [injured point guard Rajon] Rondo and K.G. (Kevin Garnett) is just coming back [from an injury]."
Different or not, the Nets' 22nd road win of the season had to feel especially satisfying to a team that is intent on moving far past the first round of the playoffs.
As currently situated, the Nets would meet the Bulls in the opening round while the Celtics would take on the newly crowned division champion Knicks. But that's a story that will write itself later this month.
For now, with tax day rapidly approaching, the Nets can take great pleasure in having filed and received a very healthy early return in Beantown.
In Brooklyn, the dreaded tax day deadline always coincides with one of great celebration.
Monday, April 15, will mark the 66th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's trailblazing debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
To honor the historic event, our own Brooklyn Cyclones, along with Sheepshead Bay Regal Cinemas and Municipal Credit Union, will host more than 200 students from Brooklyn youth groups for a special screening of the new movie, "42: The Jackie Robinson Story."
Former Mets hurler and Bensonhurst native John Franco will be on hand for the event, as will fellow Brooklynite Terry McFarlin, who also played pro baseball.
April 15 is recognized annually as Jackie Robinson Day to commemorate the day Robinson made his Major League debut, forever breaking baseball's color line.
The youth event is designed to allow area students to learn more about the history of Brooklyn, Robinson's personal story, and how individuals and communities can come together to overcome adversity and achieve their goals.
Hoop du Jour: Joe Johnson intimated following Wednesday's win that he wasn't exactly pain-free yet, but is certainly getting closer to 100 percent health. "I still have a certain amount of pain when I make certain moves," he revealed. Williams knows how important it will be to have Johnson at full strength for what the Nets hope will be a long and fruitful postseason run. "We're going to need him full force coming down the stretch and into the playoffs," he added.