Deron Williams re-signed with the Nets last summer with the move to Brooklyn on the horizon for $98.7 million and five years in the middle of his prime at the age of 28.
The re-signing of All-Star center Brook Lopez and the trade that brought in six-time All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson were important pieces of the puzzle, but it was very clear that Williams re-upping made him the face of the franchise. Being held to that lofty expectation means, in theory, that this team will be living and dying on his leadership and his abilities.
As the Nets' best-of-seven first-round series with the Chicago Bulls heads to a Game 7 on Saturday following the Nets' 95-92 Game 6 win at the United Center on Thursday night, at least one thing appears clear when talking the franchise point guard.
When it comes to the fourth quarter and crunch time, the Nets need more, much more from Williams.
In the second half on Thursday night, Williams was 0-for-3 from the field with just one of those shots coming in the fourth quarter. He appeared to be deferring to others way too often down the stretch and giving up the ball way too quickly in halfcourt sets.
To add to those puzzling late-game sequences, Andray Blatche scored the Nets' final five points over the final 1:15 of the game as they held on for dear life. That included two huge free throws with 19.2 seconds left that capped the scoring.
Williams' shortcomings in the fourth quarter has been ongoing in this series. In Monday's 110-91 Game 5 Nets win, Williams took just one shot in 6:00 of action after going off for 13 third-quarter points on 4-for-7 shooting to give the Nets control of a game they had to have.
A 2-for-11 shooting effort between the fourth quarter and three overtimes in a 142-134 underscored the fact the Nets were up by 14 with 3:19 to play and failed to close the game, which might have helped avoid this upcoming do-or-die affair.
To say Williams is afraid of the moment is unfair given Williams' monster career playoff resume. After Thursday, he is averaging 21.1 points and 9.4 assists in 49 playoff games. The fact he is averaging 20 points and 8.7 assists through the first six games of these playoffs, not to mention the complete 180-degree turn he did after the All-Star break, is enough to have one believe he'll snap out of whatever late-game issues have arisen.
If those numbers aren't enough, he does have one career Game 7 under his belt and it was a great one. While with the Utah Jazz, he dropped 20 points and 14 assists on the Houston Rockets in a 103-99 that decided a first-round series. That Jazz team would go on to lose to the eventual-NBA champion San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals in five games.
Williams coming up huge in the fourth quarter has not been the case recently. If the Nets are going to head to South Beach to tangle with the Miami Heat beginning Monday, the face of the franchise better start thinking about doing another 180 over the final 12 minutes on Saturday night.
Josh Newman is SNYNets.com’s Field Reporter. Follow him on Twitter for up to the minute news and banter on all things related to the Brooklyn Nets and the NBA