D-Will shows Nets what they were missing

NEW YORK -- The Brooklyn Nets' disappointing and injury-ravaged start to the season was such a struggle that it felt like more than just the first month of the NBA season to Kevin Garnett.

"November was a s----- year for us," Garnett said before catching himself and laughing. "A s----- month ... Oh God. They are going to probably fine me for that, I don't give a s---. F--- it."

November and early December felt like a decade to Garnett and the Nets, who probably would like to curse away a dismal 5-14 start. But on Tuesday night, Deron Williams reminded them what life is supposed to be like, what they can be when near whole.

Williams returned from an ankle injury and looked a lot like the elite point guard Jason Kidd has been missing. Williams had 25 points, seven assists and hit 10 of 16 shots to propel the Nets to their first two-game winning streak of the season with a 104-96 victory over the Boston Celtics.

"He is the head of the snake," Paul Pierce said. "He is one of the most important pieces of what we are trying to do here and we are trying to build and win a championship."

Pierce also returned from a broken hand and provided a presence off the bench as a facilitator. You can't understate just how much better the Nets looked on Tuesday night than they have in the past month and a half. They looked like they were in a different galaxy compared with the team that was humiliated by the Knicks last week.

It may only be two wins in a row, but the Nets are showing signs that they can score inside and out, move the ball and defend. Most important, they showed that they can take a punch from a team that plays hard, and punch back.

So much of that had to do with Williams, who provided what the Nets (7-14) have been missing.

He controlled the tempo and was aggressive even when his older and slower teammates weren't exactly running right with him. No offense to Shaun Livingston and Tyshawn Taylor, but those guys were meant to be backups. Kidd had to start those two while Williams was out for 11 games. D-Will only played a total of 18 minutes in another two games in which he injured and re-injured his ankle.

It's no wonder why Garnett couldn't help himself from cussing when talking about what life was like without Williams.

D-Will gives the Nets an element they have been missing badly. He is a star who can create offense for himself and his teammates. Up to this point, the Nets have had to rely on Brook Lopez inside the paint or Joe Johnson trying to create something out of isolation.

Williams gives the Nets speed, athleticism and creativity.

"I liked the way he created offense for himself," Pierce said. "He was out three to four weeks and he comes back and he is our leading scorer, our leading assist man."

In the first quarter, the Nets established Lopez, who had 10 of his 24 points as the Nets built an 11-point lead. Brooklyn led by nine at the half but then came the third quarter which has paralyzed the Nets so many times this season.

But even as the Celtics hit their first five shots of the quarter and tied the game at 60-60, Williams kept the Nets from panicking. He scored nine points, assisted on four other baskets and grabbed two rebounds in the quarter to help Brooklyn build the lead up to as many as 17 in the third.

Without Williams, the Nets likely would have folded as they had in so many other third quarters.

"I observed some things that I felt like we could do better," Williams said of what he learned while watching the Nets from the bench when he was injured. "One of the things was pushing the ball. I felt like we played a little too slow and definitely needed to pick the pace up."

In the fourth, the Celtics would make another push. Kidd brought Williams back in at the 10:18 mark even though the point guard had already logged 27 minutes up to that point. The Nets needed a win and there would be no limit on Williams' minutes.

"I thought I was on restriction," Williams cracked about playing nearly 37 minutes. "When he put me in with 10 minutes to go in the fourth, I guess [the restriction] was off."

With the Nets nursing an eight-point lead, Williams found himself inside the paint with nowhere to go, but he pivoted around Jeff Green and threw in a one-handed scoop shot before hitting a 15-foot pull-up jumper to put Brooklyn up 12 with 5:28 left. The Celtics got no closer than five before Garnett, Lopez and Johnson helped the Nets put the game away.

The Nets had lost these types of games without Williams. They're still learning how to win together and this was a step in the right direction. Brooklyn can at least start to see some light after some very dark times early in the season.

"November was hard on us, man," Garnett said. "Here I feel like we are making some strides. You can actually see the improvement on our team. It's only two games but when you look at the tape, you see guys with our new scheme, you are starting to see a turnover. That is a positive sign."

There's no rest for Williams, who gets Chris Paul when the Clippers visit on Thursday.

"A good test for us," Williams said. "Chris Paul is definitely the head of that snake."

The head of the Nets' snake is back, too. And for at least one night, it had a venomous bite worth any fine Garnett may receive for letting out a few expletives.