From Dallas to Cleveland to the NBA Finals for the first time in his 12 years in the league, it was an interesting 2016-17 season for Deron Williams.
D-Will began his 12th NBA season with the Dallas Mavericks, but at the trade deadline, he made the jump from the Western Conference and eventually captured the first conference title of his career, and his first trip to the Finals, where the Cavs squared off with the Golden State Warriors.
“It’s been a long journey,” D-Will said ahead of the series. “A lot of ups and downs, but it’s well worth it. Once you get here and once you’re in The Finals, it’s definitely exciting. I feel blessed to be in this position and to be able to compete for a championship. And just trying to live in the moment, relish it, and enjoy it because you don’t know if it will ever happen again.”
Unfortunately, the journey didn’t take him to a confetti shower after a series victory, as the Cavs couldn’t match the Warriors’ firepower, falling in five games.
Early in the year, a berth in the NBA Finals looked to be out of the question.
Deron opened the season in Dallas, with a big 25-point, seven-assist night, though it came in a defeat to the Indiana Pacers—one of 15 losses in the first 18 games of the season the Mavs. Five games into that rough start, D-Will strained his calf and joined the lengthy injury list for the Mavericks—a list that was crowded all season as the injury bug continued to bite the team in Deron’s home city.
The Fighting Illini great battled back from the lower-leg injury to have a solid December, averaging 15.1 points and 7.9 assists. He had three double-digit assist games—including 15 dimes in a win over the Chicago Bulls—and four 20-point scoring nights—including 23 in a tough road win over the Portland Trail Blazers—as the Mavs began to regain their footing.
The New Year brought more success for Dallas. D-Will posted a monster double-double of 23 points and 12 assists in a key road win over the Phoenix Suns. That victory sparked the team’s first three-game win streak of the season.
However, just a few games later, the injury bug struck Deron again, as he stepped on Joakim Noah’s foot late in the first half of Dallas’ 103-95 win over the New York Knicks. He played just three more games in a Mavs uniform before turning to the next chapter at the trade deadline.
D-WILL JOINS CAVS’ CHAMPIONSHIP HUNT
On Feb. 27, 2017 the Cleveland Cavaliers announced the addition of D-Will.
“Once Dallas did inform me that they wanted to go in a different direction, the Cavs were probably the first team that jumped out at me. A lot of times you try to overthink things. But I kind of went with my first thought,” Deron said. “At the end of the day, I just felt like this was the best fit for me. It was a team that showed interest in the offseason in signing me, and one where I think my name was kind of thrown around all season.”
Deron joined the Cavs on March 1, but the month-and-a-half that followed wasn’t as strong as expected for the defending NBA champions.
Despite Deron’s best efforts to contribute in his new reserve role, the Cavs struggled to a 10-14 mark for the rest of the regular season, slipping out of the No. 1 seed in the East. Deron did have his best game of the season in the regular season finale, flirting with a triple as he scored a season-high 35 points while dishing out nine assists and grabbing seven boards in a loss to the Heat.
Deron and his longtime friend and former Utah Jazz teammate, Kyle Korver, were puzzled as to how a team that was 10-14 in its last 24 games could possibly make a run to the NBA Finals, but the other vets on the squad assured them that this Cavs team was simply hibernating.
“The last two months of the season in Cleveland wasn’t great. I was a little worried, a little nervous, to be honest,” D-Will admitted. “But a lot of the guys on the team, a lot of the veteran guys were like ‘Relax, when the time comes we’ll turn it around, we’ll turn it on.’ Me and Kyle (Korver) were over there like ‘I hope so.’ But this is a veteran team, guys that have been through it, been through the wars.”
CAVS CHARGE TO NBA FINALS
Indeed, the sleeping giant did awake in the postseason.
Cleveland blasted its way through the Eastern Conference, sweeping the Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors in the first two rounds.
Deron had 14 points in the close-out game over Indy and tallied 15 assists and 18 points over the course of the four-game the sweep of the Raptors in Round 2. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving led the way, playing superstar-caliber basketball to lead the Cleveland charge.
The Cavs nearly swept their way to a third straight East crown as well. Cleveland ran Boston off its home floor in Game 1 and Game 2, and led by 21 in the third quarter of Game 3. But the Celtics mounted an impressive rally, capped by a last-second 3-pointer that stunned the Quicken Loans Arena crowd and handed Cleveland its only loss in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
However, that was the last bit of drama in the series. D-Will and Co. won the next two by a combined 45 points to capture the East title and secure a date with the Golden State Warriors for the NBA crown.
Deron and the Cavs entered the NBA Finals as heavy underdogs.
One year after putting together one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history, Cleveland was facing a new challenge: a Warriors team that grew stronger over the offseason with the addition of Kevin Durant.
The Cavs fought hard in each contest with the retooled Warriors squad, but they simply couldn’t match the offensive firepower of the Western Conference Champions.
After two defeats in Oakland, the tipping point in the series took place in Game 3. Cleveland looked destined to protect The Q and draw within a game of evening the series. The Cavs even took a lead into the fourth quarter of the game, but as they did through much of the series, Golden State controlled the fourth to secure a commanding 3-0 series lead.
The Cavs came back in Game 4 to end the Warriors’ bid at a perfect postseason and D-Will hit one of Cleveland’s 24 3-pointers, an NBA Finals record. That wasn’t the only record set as the Cavs staved off elimination. Cleveland mounted an out-and-out assault on the NBA Finals record book, also scoring the most points in a Finals half (86) and a Finals quarter (49), while racing to a dominant 137-116 victory.
However, the celebration was short-lived, as the Warriors closed out the Finals at home in Game 5, ending D-Will’s bid for his first NBA title.