The 2015-16 season was a homecoming for The Colony, Texas native Deron Williams, as he headed back south to join the Dallas Mavericks.
Right from the start and all the way through the Mavs’ 15th playoff appearance over the past 16 seasons, D-Will felt rejuvenated back in his home city.
“This has been a great year for me, as far as just being happy and enjoying playing basketball again,” Deron said. “You know, with all the guys on the team and the coaching staff, it’s been a great situation for myself. Aside from the injuries, everything was great this season.”
When Dallas’ run ended, No. 8 was one of numerous members of the “masking tape Mavs,” as named by Rick Carlisle named them, hampered by injury. A painful sports hernia ended his season prematurely as the Mavs put forth a valiant effort before being ousted by the third-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in five games.
Deron shrugged off numerous bumps and bruises throughout the roller coaster season, but he left everything he had on the hardwood. In the regular season, No. 8 played in 65 games, starting 63, and averaged 14.1 points on 41.4 percent shooting with 5.8 assists and 2.9 rebounds.
D-Will was solid in his debut versus the Phoenix Suns (20 points, seven assists), but it took time for the team to fully click.
Dallas found its groove in mid-November and enjoyed a six-game winning streak, which Deron capped with a 23-point, eight-assist effort against the team that drafted him in 2005, the Utah Jazz.
The rest of November was rough, but Deron opened December by dropping 30 points on the Portland Trail Blazers in a 115-112 overtime win.
“(Deron is) really getting a feel for what’s needed in our system,” Carlisle said after D-Will’s first 30-point game in Dallas. “He knows of his importance to the team on one hand, and on the other hand, we have pretty good balance. It’s not like everything’s on his shoulders. I really believe that we have a team makeup that gives him a chance to pick his spots to be aggressive without having to be the featured guy all the time. That’s how we build our team.”
That overtime game marked the first of many, as the Mavs played 13 total extra periods (65 minutes) over the course of the season.
D-Will logged double-digit scoring seven times in December before straining his left hamstring in a 103-99 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Dec. 22. He subsequently missed the next four games, but his teammates rallied in his absence to post wins in all four, including a game against the defending champion Golden State Warriors, 114-91 on Dec. 30.
The Mavericks were put to work in January, playing more games than any other team in the league with 18. To make matters even more tiresome for the bunch, they played four straight overtime games at home, setting a franchise record.
D-Will highlighted that rare stretch with his first signature performance in a Mavericks uniform. In a double-overtime tilt with the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 5, D-Will scored 25 points and either scored or assisted on all 13 of Dallas’ points in the second extra period—including the game-winning three at the buzzer.
“Definitely my first Maverick mob scene,” Deron said after his teammates had dogpiled him. “I was at the very bottom of the pile. All of a sudden it went dark, and I couldn’t breathe…This was a great team win for us.”
No. 8 had another terrific OT performance in January, tallying 10 points and two dimes in overtime as the Mavs outlasted the youthful Boston Celtics. D-Will pushed the Mavs to their first win of the month as well as their last. On Jan. 31, No. 8 poured in 27 points for a 91-78 victory versus Phoenix, which gave Dallas a 9-9 mark for the treacherous monthly slate.
February and March were also difficult the Mavericks. They went 9-16 in that span, but Deron highlighted the lull with a historic feat. On March 21 against the Portland Trail Blazers, D-Will went off for 31 points and 16 assists, becoming the first Maverick to log 30 points and 15 assists since Jason Kidd went for 33 and 16 in 1996.
“Any time you can do something that J-Kidd did, that says a lot,” said Deron, who had 17 points and 11 assists in the second half and overtime, as the Mavs won 132-120. “I grew up watching him, I grew up wanting to emulate him. I had a chance to play with him and play under him, and so it definitely means a lot.”
Deron played one more game before an abdominal strain sidelined him for eight.
“He has a strain of the left groin and abdominal area, and so right now we’re going to try to get him feeling better,” Carlisle said. “There’s no timetable. We hope it’s not serious, but it’s uncertain because of the nature of the injury.”
Again, the Mavs assembled without their point man to win six straight. Deron returned for the final three games of the regular season, in which he averaged 17 points in games against the Los Angeles Clippers, Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs.
In his second game back against Utah on April 11, Deron’s second-quarter surge helped Dallas clinch a spot in the postseason. No. 8 dropped 16 of his team-high 23 points in the second stanza to boost the Mavs to a halftime lead. They held on from there for a 101-92 victory over his former team, which was also fighting for a playoff berth.
“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.”
Despite Deron’s surge to end the regular season, his injury lingered into the playoffs. Deron played through crippling pain in Game 1, as Dallas fell 108-70 in Oklahoma City on April 16.
“Today wasn’t good,” D-Will said, describing his injury. “I’ve felt it at some point in every game I’ve played for the last month and a half, two months. Some were worse than others. Tonight was one of the worst ones.”
Two days later, Deron gave the Mavs all he had in their 85-84 victory — despite being listed as doubtful that morning. No. 8 turned in 13 points and five assists over 26 minutes to help his team tie the series at one and steal home-court advantage. D-Will went 4-of-4 and hit three times from three-point range to lead all scorers with 11 points in the first period, as the Mavs held on for a wild finish.
“This wouldn’t be possible if Deron Williams hadn’t given it a shot,” Carlisle said. “Tonight, had he not played [those] 26 minutes, we wouldn’t have been in a position to win. He was hot early, he got us going, he kept the confidence level of the club up, and I’m really impressed with his willingness to give it a shot tonight because he’s not well – he’s hurting.’’
Deron played just 89 seconds in Game 3, a 131-102 loss at home, before he was shut down the remainder of the season. Oklahoma City took the final two games to secure the first-round, best-of-seven series in five.
Now, he looks ahead to the offseason.
“I haven’t even thought about it,” said Deron, who has a player option for the second year of his contract in Dallas. “I just was worried about finishing the season on a strong note. Once I got hurt, the focus was just trying to get back and be able to play, so I haven’t even thought about it. That’s something I will discuss with my agent and my wife, and we’ll figure it out. I would love to be back. Like I said, this was a great year for me, and I’m definitely happy here. My family is settled and happy here, so it’d definitely be great to be back. It was a great situation, and I definitely would love to be back.”