A week ago, Deron Williams wasn’t sure he’d play again this season. But on Monday night, in his second game back from a sports hernia, a sizzling second quarter from D-Will ensured both he and his Dallas Mavericks teammates will play on into the postseason.
Deron dropped 16 of his team-high 23 points in the second stanza to boost the Mavs to a halftime lead, and they held on from there for a 101-92 victory over his former team, the Utah Jazz, in his former home at Energy Solutions Arena. With that win, Dallas secured a Western Conference playoff spot for the third straight season and 15th time in the last 16 seasons.
The playoffs were on the line—for both the Mavs and the Jazz—but after the win, Dallas now can drop no lower than the seventh seed, while Utah is on the outside looking in with just one game left.
“This game meant a lot to us, and we knew it meant a lot to them as well,” D-Will said. “So coming in here we knew it was going to be like a playoff atmosphere, and it essentially was a playoff game because there was so much at stake.”
In addition to his 23 points, D-Will tallied six assists and four rebounds against his former team, in front of former fans, who weren’t shy when it came to voicing their opinions.
But Deron used their fire as fuel.
“It definitely got me going out there a little bit,” said Deron, who spent his first six seasons with the Jazz. “Not only the booing, but the stuff that was being said from when I was sitting on the bench — dead balls and things like that — I heard a lot.”
Jeering aside, Deron showed up when his team needed him most, with their season at stake, and while his second quarter performance highlighted the night, No. 8 also got his team going early. Midway through the first, he fueled the Mavs’ early momentum with a swipe-and-score to put Dallas up 9-6. They led the rest of the way from there.
“Deron Williams coming back in here and having to put up with all this booing and nonsense, I thought was just fabulous the way he approached the game,” coach Rick Carlisle said.
After a modest first frame, the three-time All Star lit it up in the second quarter, shooting 7-of-10 from the floor. Two minutes after driving through the lane for a bucket to make it 29-23 in favor of the Mavs, Deron went off to account for nine straight points.
No. 8 got that spurt started by draining a fadeaway jumper. Then, after back-to-back buckets from Utah’s Gordon Hayward, D-Will helped to end the Jazz run with a dish to Zaza Pachulia for a layup, that pushed the lead back to five, 35-30. Deron then fired off another fadeaway jumper on the next Dallas possession that connected to put the Mavs seven. Utah followed with five straight points, but again D-Will and Pachulia teamed up to end the run, as Pachulia returned the favor, distributing to No. 8, who connected from mid-range to put Dallas back up by four 39-35. Moments later, Jazz guard Rodney Hood got hit with a technical, and Deron converted the subsequent free throw to cap the run.
“He was focused,” Carlisle said. “He was determined, and he showed what a great player he is because you come into this place in this kind of environment with this kind of a meaningful game and play the kind of game that he did coming off of being really down for two weeks, that’s big-time.”
But Deron had more up his sleeve, scoring another seven points to end the half.
After the Jazz got back within one point of the lead, D-Will buried a triple, which made it 44-40 with 2:27 left in the half. Utah scored the next two buckets to tie the score, but after a Wes Matthews layup put Dallas back in front, No. 8 again put the Mavs up for when he drove in knocked down a floater. He followed that with a step-back jumper on the next possession, his and the team’s final points of the half, and Dallas took a four-point 50-46 advantage into the break.
The Mavs remained in control in the third. Dirk Nowitzki went back-to-back from three-point range, the first off a dish from Deron, to push the lead to 11. Shortly thereafter, D-Will canned a three to make it a 12-point cushion.
Dallas kept the pressure on in the final frame. D-Will had two dimes to Salah Mejri, the second of which extended the lead to 15 points. Hayward fueled a last-ditch run for the Jazz, slicing the lead down to just six points in the waning minutes, but Dallas did their due diligence from the line.
D-Will hit two of his team’s 10 fourth-quarter free throws, as the Mavs went 83.3 percent from the line in the final period to close out their seventh win in eight games.
Despite clinching a playoff spot on Monday, Deron and the Mavericks (42-39) still have a lot to play for at home on Wednesday night when the San Antonio Spurs (65-15) visit Dallas to conclude the 2015-16 regular season.
At the moment, the Mavs sit in the seventh spot, penciled into a first round series against the dangerous Spurs. But with a win Wednesday and some help, Dallas can move as high as fifth.
“Any team wants to be as high a seed as possible, and that’s what we’re going to try to do,’’ Deron said. “We’re going to try to care of business at home against San Antonio and hope for the best.”
The Spurs have hit a slump in one of the toughest portions of their schedule. They’ve dropped their past three games, two against the defending champion Golden State Warriors and one other against the Denver Nuggets. The Spurs will also be heading to Dallas on the tail end of a back-to-back after hosting the No. 3 Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night.
Still, the Mavs are o-for-3 against San Antonio so far this season and Deron is averaging just eight points and five assists per against the Spurs in those three meetings.
Tipoff of the regular season finale from Dallas’ American Airlines Center is set for 7 p.m. CT and the game can be seen on Fox Sports Southwest.
PLAYOFF SCENARIOS (Courtesy: MavsMoneyball)
No. 5 seed vs. (4) Los Angeles Clippers:
– Mavs win vs. Spurs, Blazers loss vs. Nuggets, Grizzlies loss at Clippers or at Warriors
No. 6 seed vs. (3) Oklahoma City Thunder:
– Mavs win vs. Spurs, Blazers win vs. Nuggets, Grizzlies loss at Clippers or at Warriors
– Mavs loss vs. Spurs, Grizzlies loss at Clippers and at Warriors
No. 7 seed vs. (2) San Antonio Spurs:
– Mavs loss vs. Spurs, Grizzlies win at Clippers or at Warriors
– Mavs win vs. Spurs, Grizzlies win at Clippers and at Warriors
WESTERN CONFERENCE STANDINGS – 4/12
- z – Golden State Warriors (72-9)
- y – San Antonio Spurs (65-15) 6.5 GB
- y – Oklahoma City Thunder (55-26) 17 GB
- x – Los Angeles Clippers (52-28) 19.5 GB
- x – Portland Trail Blazers (43-38) 29 GB
- x – Memphis Grizzlies (42-38) 29.5 GB
- x – Dallas Mavericks (42-39) 30 GB
- Houston Rockets (40-41) 32 GB
z – Clinched conference
y – Clinched division
x – Clinched playoff berth
- Mavericks clinch playoff spot with win over Jazz (AP, Apr. 12, 2016)
- Game Book: Mavericks at Jazz (NBA, Apr. 11, 2016)
- Mavs will play the Spurs, Thunder or Clippers. Here are the scenarios (MavsMoneyball, Apr. 12, 2016)
- How the two most hated Mavericks in Utah dragged their team into the playoffs (Dallas Morning News, Apr. 11, 2016)
- Mavericks clinch playoff spot with gritty victory over Jazz (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Apr. 12, 2016)