Deron Williams knows he’ll have a lot on his mind tonight.
“I’m sure tonight I’ll think about it a lot,” Williams said in the visiting locker room, shortly after missing an open jumper with ten seconds left that would’ve tied the game. “Not just the shot, but the game in general. We just had a lot of chances, and felt like I could’ve played better, but we got two more at home now we’ve got to go get.”
Down two with 27 seconds left in a game they’d clawed into for 47:33, Joe Johnson drew in Atlanta’s defense driving to the basket on a flare, pin-down, and pick-and-roll, and kicked it out to Deron Williams for a potential game-winning corner three.
Williams stepped in after a rapidly closing Kent Bazemore flew past him, fired off a clean 16-foot pull-up jumper. It couldn’t have been written any better: this was Williams’s open shot at redemption after a rough shooting night, a well-created look Williams has hit thousands of times before.
“We wanted to get him off the three-point line, and he had a good look, a good open look,” Hawks coach and NBA Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer said at the podium. “I’m obviously hoping it doesn’t go in.”
“It felt really good,” Williams sighed. “I thought it was in when I let it go.”
Budenholzer got his wish. The shot rimmed out, and Kyle Korver, Williams’s good friend, former teammate, & a player Williams once openly lobbied to join him in Brooklyn, grabbed the rebound off the miss.
“As important is that we can get the board,” Budenholzer added. “They’ve won so many games going down the stretch here where they may miss a shot but they’re able to get the offensive board and put it back in. So you’re hoping it doesn’t go in and you get the board.”
Williams was forced to foul Korver with 8.1 seconds left, and the career 89.8% free throw shooter knocked down both to seal the game, a 96-91 home victory for the Atlanta Hawks to put them up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series. It was the sixth and final shot Williams missed in seven attempts, and he couldn’t believe it himself, aiming a wry, disbelieving look at the basket following the play.
RELATED: Game Grades & Player Stats In Game 2
Hollins defended his point guard following the poor shooting night, attacking his critics in the process.
“People can criticize all they want,” Hollins retorted. “If they’re not in the game performing and going through the battle, you can’t say anything.”
Hollins was asked if he was worried about Williams’s confidence or mental state, given the missed shot and Paul Pierce’s recent criticism of Williams’s leadership. “No. I’m not,” Hollins affirmed, letting the words hang in the air for a few moments for emphasis. “He had ten rebounds, he had eight assists. He played well. He was defending. He made some hustle plays. Shooting comes and goes.”
Williams didn’t shoot poorly in Game 1, hitting five of 11 shots and two of four three-pointers. But he has also made just two of 17 shots in the final five minutes of playoff games with the game within five points, and none in the past two years, per NBA.com.
Brook Lopez defended his point guard, putting the blame for Williams’s rough shooting on his shoulders. “They’re changing up their pick-and-roll defense a lot throughout the game in these first two games,” Lopez analyzed. “They’ve been trapping a lot, stunting, just giving different looks. I have to do a better job of setting the screen and making sure his man doesn’t get through, so we can take advantage of some mismatches.”
PODCAST: Reaction To Brooklyn’s Game 2 Loss
The Nets & Hawks travel back to Brooklyn for Games 3 & 4 without a win, losing two games against the heavily favored Hawks by a combined 12 points. After an average margin of defeat of 17.3 points per game during the Hawks regular season sweep,[note]This number is a little misleading, since the teams never faced each other at full strength. Thaddeus Young was only around for two of the games, and the first was at the tail end of a four-game-in-five-nights stretch for the Nets, while the second was without Hawks forward Paul Millsap. Still, safe to say the Hawks dominated the Nets this season.[/note] there’s hope that the Nets can take that execution and turn it into victories at home.
“Ultimately, we have to win one game on the road,” Hollins noted. “It wasn’t to be in these first two games.”
But the close losses leave a bitter taste for a team that was heavily favored to lose. “(It’s) encouraging because we’ve had our chances, we’ve been there, but discouraging because we weren’t able to pull one out,” Williams admitted. “It’s a little bit of mixed emotions.”