TORONTO -- When Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were brought to Brooklyn to lead the Nets to the Finals, the two veterans knew a key component to accomplishing their mission would be their ability to unlock the best out of Deron Williams.
The same can be said for Jason Kidd when he was hired to coach the Nets.
Much of their success is tied to Williams.
So throughout the season, Pierce, Garnett and Kidd chose certain moments -- and sometimes measured words -- to motivate, build and prod the point guard. While Pierce, Garnett and Kidd own the championship wisdom, Williams is the one who is still in his prime and possesses the athletic and dynamic game needed to complement all that experience.
After Game 1 against the Raptors, it’s easy to see why Garnett and Pierce went to such lengths to push the right buttons with Williams. The Nets’ point guard came out incredibly aggressive and set the tone for Brooklyn by scoring 18-of-his-24 points in the first half of the 94-87 Game 1 win in Toronto.
Williams provided what the Nets needed -- young, fast, explosive and athletic offensive burst to counter the Raptors' youth. And down the stretch, he also helped slow down Kyle Lowry, who missed 5-of-his-last-7 shots and scored just 4-of-his-22 points in the fourth quarter.
A potentially deciding factor to this first-round series is who wins the point guard battle between Williams and Lowry. In many ways, the Nets are only going to go as far as Williams takes them. And Pierce and Garnett know this.
Often, the Nets feel as if they have to keep Williams from stopping himself.
“When things get tough, he has a support system to let him know that it’s not the end of the world, and to not be so hard on himself,” Garnett said. “Deron’s biggest problem has been Deron. He’s very, very hard on himself, to the point where you have to pull him to the side and give him some real s---, say some real s--- to him.”
If Kidd, who was close friends with Williams before becoming his coach, can’t say some “real s---” to the point guard, rest assured Garnett and Pierce will and have done so.
Publicly, though, they choose deliberate moments when to pump him up such as in late January when the Nets beat the Knicks. During that game, Williams returned from an injury and came off the bench to not disrupt the Nets’ rising chemistry at the time.
Perhaps sensing that Williams needed a confidence boost and to be reassured of what he means to the team, Garnett and Pierce went out of their way to praise Williams for coming off the bench.
Garnett said back then that Williams has “the heart of a champion, man. A straight lion."
Williams has often been the first to admit that his confidence had dipped considerably at times with various injuries over the past couple of seasons. But he knows what this team needs from him.
Against Toronto, he looked for his offense repeatedly. He shot without hesitation and was aggressive in trying to drive as well. That’s part of the logic of having Shaun Livingston start alongside with him, to allow Williams to do his thing and be aggressive.
“I think that’s what the team needs,” said Williams, who took 17 shots in the first half. “We talked about it. We want to get in the paint, and so a lot of that starts with me and Shaun [Livingston] getting into the paint and making things happen.”
The Raptors noticed the difference.
“Early in the game, he pushed the pedal to the metal a little bit, got the tempo up and that helped him during the game,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said after Raptors practice. “When he is running like that, they are a potent team. I don’t know what it does for Paul and Kevin. [But] it helps Deron. They have a lot of dynamic players.”
None more than Williams when his head and body is right.
“I think he realizes that," Pierce said. "He’s doing a good job mixing it up, but at the end of the day, we want Deron to just be himself, to just be aggressive, to be the facilitator. We need him to do everything. He has a huge responsibility to this team. That’s why he gets paid the big bucks because we need him to do everything possible –- facilitate, rebound, score, defend. He gets paid to do it all."
Garnett and Pierce have experience with how to get the best out of incredibly talented but unpredictable point guards. They had Rajon Rondo before Williams.
“He and Deron have [a lot of] similarities,” Garnett said. “Rondo’s a little ... I would [say] a little bit crazier than Deron now and then, but both are very deserving of their current positions.”
Rondo may be more stubborn than Williams. But in the end, it’s all the same as Pierce and Garnett need their young and talented point guard to play like one when the pressure is on in the playoffs.
They can’t get to the Finals without their young outstanding point guard.
“He gets everybody easy shots,” Garnett said. “You see the head of the snake leading the charge, and I think it’s good for D-Will. It puts him in an aggressive mode. You can tell when he’s passive, you can tell when he’s aggressive. And when he’s like that it’s very hard to deal with us most of the time.”
“We’ve taken some of the grit off of him,” Garnett added. “So he doesn’t have to be so talkative, but understanding that we’re following you, so how you go is how we’re going to go. And I think he’s getting more comfortable with that position.”