NEW YORK – Deron Williams had the ball against one of the worst defenses in the league and with a chance to tie the game or take the lead.
The Nets wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
They brought Williams back specifically for this game and specifically for this reason. Actually, the Nets would rather have had a big lead and have Williams make sure they didn’t give it up. That happened already -- twice in the third period -- against the Knicks.
It came down to the Nets’ new superstar, who left the infirmary for a chance to stick a dagger in the Knicks on national television. But Williams rushed his shot, missed it and the Knicks celebrated the 120-116 victory.
“I got a good look,” Williams said. “Just kind of rushed it, came up short.”
On most occasions, the Knicks don’t make this stop. But the Nets misfired plenty in crunch time, missing six of their last seven shots. Williams was responsible for three of them, but if not for his presence and leadership the Nets probably aren’t in this game. If Williams doesn’t get in foul trouble, the Nets might even win.
The Nets showed up for this game, unlike the last two, and that’s why it hurt so much for them to not close out the Knicks when they had the chance.
The Nets put so much into this one game. Williams knew at least a week ago he wouldn’t be resting his strained right wrist on this night.
With an ESPN audience, the Nets made this their biggest game of the season and they wanted their biggest star on the court. They wanted him there to make the big plays when they mattered.
Williams scored 22 points, had eight assists and eight rebounds in 37 minutes and he said of his wrist: “it’s the best it’s felt in a long time.”
But Williams hasn’t been shooting as much as he usually does, hasn’t been practicing at all and hadn’t played in 12 days because of the wrist. His rust showed at the end, but a little toughness was needed by the Nets in the third and fourth quarters.
The Nets led by 16 in the first half and were dominating the glass. They knew the Knicks were going to make a run. Everyone knew Carmelo Anthony would try lead them back. But the Nets couldn’t stop the run, couldn’t stop Anthony.
The Nets got rattled. They made bad decisions with the ball. They didn’t rebound nearly as aggressively as in the first half. They argued with officials, yelled at each other and got muscled around inside.
Brook Lopez disappeared after a strong first half, scoring just four of his 26 in the second. On one sequence late lost his sneaker when he went up for a shot. Instead of completing the play, he bent down to get his sneaker and a loose ball bounced off his back and out of bounds.
You can point some of the foul calls the Knicks got and those that the Nets didn’t get. But allowing 27 points off turnovers crushed the Nets as much as Anthony lighting them up for 39 points.
“They made a made a little run to close out the first half and then the third quarter,” Williams said. “The start of the third quarter was pitiful. I think that’s where they got the momentum and kind of got their swagger back.”
The Nets still had their chances. All they needed was a couple of makes and a couple of stops, but they couldn’t get them. They allowed 62 points in the second half, were outscored by 14 after halftime, played the type of defense the Knicks usually play.
Still, the ball was in the hands of the player the Nets wanted to have it with the game on the line. The Nets will take that every time, especially when he’s in rhythm and both of his hands are healthy.
Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)