NEW YORK – For 16 days, all Deron Williams heard about was Linsanity.
“It started on me,” Williams said Monday night.
And his personal mission was to have it end on him, too.
“We definitely had this one circled,” Williams said. “The whole team did, and I personally did because it’s been stuck on my mind. This all started on me.”
On a night when the Knicks assembled their full array of stars around amazing point guard Jeremy Lin, it was Williams, the one-man show from across the Hudson, who stole the show. Williams had a season-high 38 points, including a career-high eight 3-pointers, as the Nets beat the Knicks 100-92 to avenge a Feb. 4 loss at Madison Square Garden that spawned the incredible rise of Lin.
“Like I said, I had this one circled,” Williams said. “I don’t really watch SportsCenter. I don’t really watch too many games. But I do see Twitter. People tweet me and every three lines was, ‘Jeremy Lin destroys Deron Williams.’ So I definitely took offense to that. I had it circled.”
So did Knicks fans who were waiting to see how Carmelo Anthony, returning from a seven-game absence due to a groin injury, would fit with Lin running the offense. The best way to put it is: some good, some bad, lots to work on.
Anthony was willing to work within the flow of the offense, scoring his first basket on a pick-and-pop with Lin and then setting up Amar’e Stoudemire for two straight baskets, including and three-point play. But predictably, given Anthony’s extended absence while Linsanity gained momentum without him, the Knicks’ offense lacked its usual flow.
Lin’s 21 points, nine assists and seven rebounds weren’t enough, and both Anthony (11 points, 4-for-11 shooting, six turnovers) and Stoudemire (17 points, four rebounds) struggled to pick the right times to assert themselves. Baron Davis also was ineffective in his first game of the season after missing the first 32 with a bad back, and it was J.R. Smith’s second game with the team.
“We have to get some things sorted out, and we know that,” Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said.
Before we get back to Williams, who was the biggest reason for the Knicks’ struggles because he flat wore out Lin on the defensive end, here’s what you need to know about the much-publicized job of fitting Melo back into the Knicks’ offense: It can work, but everyone is going to have to adjust – including him.
Straight from a scout who has watched Anthony’s career extensively, here are the issues: Anthony and Stoudemire like to operate in the same area of the floor, and that’s something D’Antoni has to figure out regardless of who the point guard is. The way Lin has played for the first 11 games of this run, it will be easier for him to figure out than it was for any of the other point guards the Knicks have tried.
Here’s the other, and perhaps more important issue: Anthony likes to set up and call for the ball in an area that is between the low block and the 3-point line, a little wider than most mid-post isolation scorers want the ball. Anthony has been effective his entire career from that area, because he has so many options from there. But he also takes up a lot of space, thus killing the corner 3-pointer – so crucial to D’Antoni’s style – on that side of the floor, and also crowding out the pick-and-roll and wing penetration. One game is a little soon to call it a failure, though I’m sure that won’t stop it from happening.
“We are not in panic mode,” Lin said. Now, back to the real star of the show.
Back to D-Willsanity. After one night of well-deserved satisfaction, Williams goes back to his reality of playing for a 10-24 team that is quite obviously in the Knicks’ shadow for the time being. At his locker in the visiting room Monday night, Williams called this “definitely the toughest year of my career and one of the toughest years of my life.”
“I’ve never lost at any level going back to middle school,” Williams said. “It’s definitely been a struggle, but I’m learning to fight through things and trying to lead guys even though it’s not the best situation all the time. We’re playing better as it goes and learning how to play and we’re developing guys. So it’s still a fun process. I just hope it’s not an extended process.”
Which brings us to Williams’ future, the options he has before him with an opt-out after the season and whether he’ll be chastened in his desire to team up with stars – in Brooklyn or somewhere else next season – when he sees that it isn’t always easy to make it all fit.
“We still need to get some guys in here, there’s no doubt about that, if we want to be a better team,” Williams said. “We’re 10-24 right now. We’ve got to get some players.”
Asked how he feels about the Nets’ plan to make that happen, Williams said, “I’m very comfortable right now. There’s not much I can really do besides play basketball. And that’s what I said I was going to do from the beginning of the season: play basketball and let everything work itself out, and at the end of the season, assess where things are. I’m sure I’ll have a conversation with Billy (King, the Nets’ president), with ownership and go from there.”
On Wednesday night, the Nets’ last game before the All-Star break, Williams will see his friend and foe (for now), Dwight Howard, when the Nets host the Magic. The fortunes of so many are tied up in what happens with Howard between now and the March 15 trade deadline – and with both of them after that, on July 1.
“It’ll be interesting to see how the fans are going to react,” Williams said. “I’m sure it’ll be pretty crazy. I kind of look forward to the game. I like playing against him, so it should be fun.”
Enduring the worst season of his professional life, D-Will deserves to have some fun. And putting a speed bump in front of Linsanity, which started on his watch, was well worth the trip back across the river.