Deron Williams has gone missing again.
And it couldn’t have happened at a worse time -- in his team’s most pivotal game of the season.
In his latest disappearing act, the $98 million man was held scoreless for the first time in his playoff career on Thursday night, going 0-for-9 from the field in the Brooklyn Nets’ 94-82 loss to the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“I’ll definitely be thinking about it,” said Williams, who added seven rebounds and six assists in 37 minutes. The Nets were outscored by 18 points with him on the court.
The “franchise” point guard had been held without a point on just two other occasions: Dec. 7, 2005 against Atlanta and Jan. 30, 2006 against San Antonio.
But those were regular-season games -- games in which Williams played a combined 22 minutes.
This was different.
This was for a chance to get a split in Miami, to give his team a chance in its best-of-seven postseason series with the two-time defending NBA champions.
So given the stakes, this was inexplicable.
This was arguably the worst game of his career coming at the worst time.
“I just missed some shots,” Williams said. “I had a couple of open looks, and I got to the basket, thought I got fouled on a couple and no call. But you’ve just got to keep playing.”
Nets coach Jason Kidd liked the way Williams played.
“I thought he had some great looks. Some were just around the rim,” Kidd said. “But the other thing he did well is he set the tone. He was attacking and getting the ball into the paint. He had seven rebounds and six assists, so we look for him to bounce back in Game 3 with making shots, but I thought his overall game was really good.”
But in Game 2, Chalmers (11) and Cole (five) outscored Williams 16-0.
“They put two [guys] on the ball. I was aggressive, I got to the paint. I just didn’t hit any shots,” Williams said. “I’ll still do the same thing as fast as when I’m doubled: make the right pass, get into the lane, attack in transition. I just couldn’t buy a bucket and didn’t get to the free-throw line either.”
Williams has yet to get to the charity stripe in the series. He had 17 points in Game 1 on 7-for-10 shooting, but needed a pair of long buzzer-beating 3-pointers to get there.
This was not what the Nets envisioned when they decided to give Williams the keys to their franchise.
They expected more. So much more.
But all the injuries. The confidence problems. His desire to win frequently called into question.
All of it has hampered Williams, preventing him from reclaiming his place among the NBA’s top floor generals.
Williams recalled what used to be his worst playoff game: Game 5 of the West semis against Golden State on May 15, 2007. He went 1-for-11 from the field and finished with two points.
“It was a pretty bad one too, but we won so that made it a little better,” Williams said.
Williams played with a chip on his shoulder from then on, averaging 25.8 points and 7.8 assists on 52.7 percent shooting against the Spurs in the conference finals.
Incredible numbers. But that was then. The Nets are just two games away from elimination now, their backs against the wall as they head home for Games 3 and 4 at Barclays Center.
There’s still time for Williams to turn his series around. But not much.
The margin for error is slim. The Nets can’t afford for Williams to just miss shots again.
For better or worse -- and lately, it’s been worse -- this is D-Will’s team.
And with three years and $63.1 million remaining on his contract -- unless both sides decided they could use a fresh start -- it will be for the foreseeable future.
Williams has to come out aggressive. He has to be great. But his past performances provide Nets fans with little hope.