NEW YORK -- Deron Williams got a good look.
He just rushed it. Simple as that.
The New Jersey Nets All-Star point guard pulled up for a 17-foot jumper from the right wing with 4.9 seconds left that would’ve sent Wednesday night’s nationally televised rivalry game against the New York Knicks to overtime had it went down. But instead of getting his feet set and squaring up, Williams rushed the shot, and it caromed off the side of the rim.
Williams had come up short. So too, had his team.
Williams’ counterpart, Knicks point guard Chauncey Billups, pulled down the rebound, was fouled and calmly made two free throws at the other end, sealing New York’s 120-116 win over New Jersey in front of a sellout crowd of 19,763 at Madison Square Garden.
“I felt pretty good,” said Williams, who scored 22 points (his most in nine games with the Nets), grabbed eight rebounds and dished out eight assists in his return after missing the last six games with a strained flexor tendon in his right (shooting) wrist. “[My wrist] isn’t an excuse. I had a good look. I just rushed it and came up short.”
Williams did everything a player who has missed nearly two months of practice and hasn’t played since March 18 could to will his team to victory. After scoring just six points in the first half on 2-for-8 shooting, Williams finally began to assert himself in the third quarter, banging in a pair of 3-pointers as his team, which once led by as many as 16, re-opened a 10-point bulge with 5:55 left in the period. But the 26-year-old was whistled for his fourth foul 1:38 later, and was forced to the bench with the Nets ahead 87-78.
“Yeah it was frustrating,” said Williams, who could only watch from the bench as his team’s lead all but evaporated. “I just wish I could get the same calls Chauncey was getting on the other end.”
By the time Williams did get off the pine with 9:29 left in regulation, his team was ahead by two. The Nets would trail by as many as five late, but Williams, who was assessed his fifth personal at the 4:35 mark, rallied them from behind, converting two driving 3-point plays, a layup and a jumper over a stretch of 2:06, which put them ahead, 112-109, with 3:28 remaining.
Unfortunately, Williams would end up missing all three of his shots the rest of the way, and his teammates combined to go 1-for-4 with two turnovers. And when it came down to it, Carmelo Anthony, who was supposed to be Jersey-bound before ending up in the Big Apple, drained a jumper -- his only two points of the fourth quarter -- with 1:08 left. And that proved to be the difference.
“His timing was off a bit, but he made some big plays for us,” Nets head coach Avery Johnson said. “ He hit some timely shots, timely 3s. He had some good assists. But then you could see on some of his floaters and even there at the end, he ran out of gas a bit. But for a guy who hadn’t played in a while or practice with any contact, I thought he was awfully good.”
As it turns out, though, good just wasn’t good enough. Not in a game Nets reserve Sasha Vujacic had dubbed the team’s “biggest game of the season.” Not in a game many referred to as the Nets' Superbowl, because it was the first time they played on ESPN since 2007. Still, Williams enjoyed his indoctrination into the Hudson River rivalry. Of course, had he picked up the W, it would’ve been even better.
“It was fun,” said Williams, who was 7-for-19 shooting overall, 2-for-6 from 3-point range. “I always enjoy playing in the Garden. I really enjoyed playing in this building. There’s so much history here. Hopefully as we get better and mature, this will become a better rivalry.”
During the pregame introductions, Williams got a villain's welcome from the Knicks faithful, in the form of a chorus of boos: the ultimate form of respect for an opposing player, the same player whose picture is supposed to appear on a massive billboard in Times Square at some point in the near future. After all, who wouldn’t respect someone who looked like he’d just came out of the infirmary postgame? During his interview, Williams had wraps around both his right wrist and left knee.
No big deal, though. Williams said he should be able to play Friday night when the Nets head to the City of Brotherly Love to take on the Philadelphia 76ers.
“I was good in spurts,” Williams said. “I kind of lost my energy and then got it back. But overall, for not practicing for two months and missing a lot of time lately, I felt pretty good.
“It’s frustrating, but we had some good things come out of it. It’s all just a process for us. Everyone is being evaluated right now. Moving forward, these are just great games to be a part of.”
Jason Kidd used to love them too. In fact, he reveled in them. There was nothing he loved more than beating the Knicks.
The Nets hope Williams eventually feels the same way. But he's got to get his first win against them out of the way.
On Wednesday night he had his chance, he just came up short.