Before the Brooklyn Nets departed the friendly confines of Barclays Center on Friday night, Deron Williams noted how well the team has been playing in front of their uplifting fans over a 15-game home winning streak.
In the same breath, D-Will surmised that the Nets needed to find a way to create their own boost for road games,. like Saturday's trip to Philadelphia to take on the 76ers.
Enter Kevin Garnett.
Before the Nets laced up for their road contest with the Sixers, they got that extra pickup when they learned that Garnett, the team's veteran big man, would be playing for the first time since February 27 after missing 19 games with a back injury.
The presence of Garnett, along with another great all-around game from No. 8 helped Brooklyn snatch an elusive road victory, beating the Sixers 105-101. Afterward, D-Will talked about why the return of KG, who started but played just 13 minutes, is so important to the Nets.
"He just means so much to us energy-wise, leadership-wise, so it's great to have him back out here, even it was just for a couple minutes," Deron said. "It's good for him to get his feet back wet and get into a rhythm because we're going to need him in the playoffs."
Garnett played well in his limited minutes, tallying 10 points on 5-of-6 from the field. No. 8 was also on point, once again flirting with a double-double on his way to a 19-point, nine assist night in Philadelphia.
With their optimal starting lineup back intact for the first time in more than a month, Brooklyn got off to a torrid start, knocking down their first eight shots of the game as a team.
D-Will was in the middle of it all. After Paul Pierce and Philadelphia's James Anderson traded buckets early, with Philly briefly taking the lead on Anderson's trey, No. 8 assisted on a Shaun Livingston running bank shot that put the Nets in front for good less than a minute into the game.
Deron followed Livingston's bucket by hitting an 18-foot jumper in less than a minute later. Garnett then got into the act with an alley-oop from Pierce and D-Will kept the Nets run going when he dished out to Johnson, making the Nets 5-for-5 from the field in the first three minutes.
Garnett followed with another bucket before exiting the game and Livingston and Pierce each added short deuces to bring Brooklyn's mark to 8-of-8 from the field and their lead up to six points, 17-11.
The Nets' run of perfection from the floor stopped when Pierce misfired just less than halfway into the quarter, but D-Will helped to keep the Nets ahead a minute later when put up a beautiful lob for Mason Plumlee to throw down.
Brooklyn started to get hot again from there and another dunk from Plumlee off a D-Will feed pushed the lead back to eight. Moments later, after a Sixers miss, Deron made a driving layup and was fouled on the play. He sank his free throw to complete the three-point play and give Brooklyn its largest lead of the game at 27-16 with 2:35 left in the first. They led by six at the end of the first.
After playing the entire opening quarter, No. 8 was able to rest for a majority of the second, before checking into the game with 3:16 remaining in the half. Reenergized and refreshed, D-Will immediately made an impact helping the Nets push their lead out to double digits before halftime.
First came another picture perfect lob, this time for Garnett, who threw it down for two of his 10 points, extending Brooklyn's lead to 10.
Pierce ended the ensuing Sixers possession with a steal and No. 8 rewarded him on the other end with the helper for a trey that pushed the lead to 13 points.
The Nets defense continued to wreak havoc at the end of the half and after a Garnett steal, Deron was the benefactor, his driving layup putting Brooklyn up 15. Philadelphia finally broke the run when Tony Wroten scored on a layup with 48.9 left in the half and a shot clock violation on the following Nets possession appeared to give Philly a chance to carry some momentum into the break.
But after Wroten dribbled the ball off his foot, D-Will took that opportunity the other way as he scooped up the loose ball, dribbled coast-to-coast and finished with a slam.
His play not only gave Brooklyn a 57-42 lead heading into the break, it also extended his steal streak to 26, tied for the longest in franchise history with Mookie Blaylock and Coach Jason Kidd.
Deron Williams has recorded a steal in 26 straight games, tying a Nets franchise record.
— devin kharpertian (@uuords) April 6, 2014
Brooklyn kept coming in the third, taking the lead as high as 20 when D-Will drove in for another layup just over four minutes into the quarter. Deron also added a pair of free throws in the third and his lone assist gave Plumpee a layup with 5:33 left in the quarter to once again put Brooklyn in front by 20.
It appeared from there the Nets would waltz to another blowout victory with their starters riding out the game on the bench. But Philadelphia closed the gap slightly at the end of the third and entered the fourth down by just 12. They had it down to seven halfway through the final frame when Kidd, noticing the young Philly team in the rearview mirror, brought back his starting point guard to close the deal.
D-Will did just that, knocking down a huge 3-pointer with 3:10 to go after the Sixers had cut the lead to three. In the process of burying the trey that doubled Brooklyn's lead, No. 8 was fouled by Wroten and he calmly made his shot from the charity stripe to put Brooklyn in front by seven.
Deron Williams with a clutch four point play!
— Nets RT (@Nets_RT) April 6, 2014
DERON WILLIAMS CLUTCH
— April 17 (@Detresss) April 6, 2014
It turned out that the free throw would be one of the biggest points of the night.
Although Deron assisted on a Plumlee dunk on Brooklyn's next possession, Philly eventually cut the lead all the way down to one, 96-95, with just over a minute to go.
But D-Will helped his team remain calm under pressure and made more clutch plays in the final minute, first by assisting on a Mirza Teletovic three and then by sinking two crucial free throws to secure the 105-101 win. However, after the game, Deron wasn't thrilled that the Nets nearly let the lead slip away.
"Mirza hit a big shot and we hit some free throws down the stretch, but we have to do a better job of closing out the game," he said. "We made a lot of mistakes out there and let them get some wide-open threes. So we have to get a lot better."
With their two victories over the weekend, the Nets moved to 42-34 for the season as they kept pace with Chicago and Toronto, who also won on both Friday and Saturday.
It will be an uphill challenge to overcome that deficit six games of the season, and that challenge begins on Tuesday when the Nets travel down to South Beach aiming for the regular season sweep on the defending NBA champion Miami Heat.
Though he missed one of the three Nets wins over Miami this season, D-Will has come up big in the other two.
In the first meeting between the teams back on November 1st at Barclays Center, No. 8 toyed with a double-double and made a clutch free throw with 17.5 seconds remaining to ice the game for the Nets and secure a 101-100 victory.
After missing the second matchup, an 105-104 Nets win, due to injury, D-Will was back in time for last month's matchup in Miami and once again hit a clutch shot in the final minute to help his team eek out a 96-95 win.
Tip-off of the fourth and final regular season game between the teams is slated for 8 p.m. on Tuesday night and the game can be seen nationwide on TNT.
- Nets fight off 76ers late game push, win 105-101 (Nets Daily, April 5, 2014)
- Deron Williams leads balanced Nets offense (Yes Network, April 5, 2014)
- Deron Williams dunked again (The Brooklyn Game, April 5, 2014)
- Sixers Fall To Nets 105-101 In KG's Return (The Associated Press, April 5, 2014)
- With a Spirited Garnett Back, the Healthy Nets Edge the 76ers (NY Times, April 5, 2014)
- Garnett's return is big boost as Nets beat 76ers, 105-101 (The Record, April 5, 2014)
- Kevin Garnett impressive in long-awaited return (NY Daily News, April 6, 2014)
- Garnett makes triumphant return in Nets victory (NY Post, April 5, 2014)
- Garnett returns to help Nets hold off 76ers (Newsday, April 5, 2014)
- Near-Collapse: Nets 105, 76ers 101 (The Brooklyn Game, April 5, 2014)