NEW YORK – All around the New Jersey Nets, everyone had come to understand something these past two weeks: Deron Williams wanted to destroy Jeremy Lin. Nothing personal – kid seems perfectly polite, has a nice story – but Williams has had downright disdain for his link to Linsanity.
"It started on me," Williams said. "It's been stuck on my mind."
Williams is the best point guard in Metropolitan New York – one of the five best on the planet – and yet he's been best remembered this season as the original foil for the blossoming of the Lin movement. Sixteen days ago, Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni gave Lin his big break against the Nets, and a magnificent performance earned him his first starting assignment. Sixteen days ago, Deron Williams started seething over that indignity and finally unleashed it all on Monday night, a hellacious 38 points to transform Linsanity into a whisper.
The Nets pounded the Knicks, and Williams devastated Lin with an array of shots, including eight 3-pointers, and hard drives to the basket. He hadn't come to beat the Knicks, but punish Lin. Oh, yes, Linsanity stuck on his mind.
"When somebody says they destroyed you, and you watch the tape and you don't feel like you got destroyed, you circle those games," Williams said. "I took offense."
For Williams, this was a terrific time to catch Lin. With the return of Carmelo Anthony, there was uncertainty with this Knicks offense, some tentativeness. Lin played a terrific game – 21 points, nine assists and seven rebounds – but it was an important lesson for Lin: He's a target now. Between then and now, Williams found his Twitter feed running relentless reminders of Lin obliterating him.
"Every three lines … 'Jeremy Lin destroys Deron Williams,' " Williams said.
A lot of people believe Williams is the reason why Lin's still in the NBA, but those 25 points on Feb. 4 hadn't convinced the Knicks to keep Lin. The Feb. 7 deadline for guaranteeing contracts for the season was 72 hours away, and outplaying Williams still hadn't sold Knicks executives. After that Saturday night game, league sources said a Knicks official was still making calls about whether the Detroit Pistons planned to keep NBA Developmental League call-up Walker Russell for the season.
The Knicks would've signed Russell over Lin, sources said. The Pistons had no idea this was happening, but the Knicks were still rooting for Walker to become available. Until Lin had 28 points against the Utah Jazz on Feb. 6, and, well, it was over. The Knicks knew Lin was a keeper, and eventually Williams would get his chance to exact revenge.
Finally, it had come on Monday, and it didn't matter the Nets were playing for the third straight night. Around the organization, the Nets could see Lin had become fuel for Williams' ferocity.
Some Nets officials were reminded of a trip across the Hudson River seven years ago with Jason Kidd. Back then, Stephon Marbury had sniffed over suggestions that Kidd was a superior player, and Marbury declared himself the best point guard in the NBA on the eve of a Nets-Knicks game. "You couldn't even talk to Jason that day," one official said. "Seven hours before the game, and J-Kidd was in a full rage. You knew what was coming that night."
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And the Nets, well, they knew what was coming too on Monday night. For Williams, there's a part of him that envies Lin. After all, he's surrounded with so much talent – Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler – and a blossoming, deep bench. The Nets are waiting on the March 15 trade deadline – or perhaps summer free agency – to try and pair Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard with Williams.
Out of nowhere, Lin dropped into a magical Madison Square Garden, and now his mandate is to find a flow, a partnership, with the All-Stars surrounding him. This has always been the plight of the Nets, the afterthought across the River. Kidd delivered the Nets to consecutive NBA Finals, but they never could usurp the Knicks as the story. Unless Williams and Howard are playing together when the franchise moves to Brooklyn next season, the Nets will be barely a whisper to this developing Knicks monolith.
"We need to get some guys in here, there's no doubt about that," Williams said.
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For one night anyway, Deron Williams didn't need much beyond his own genius talent, beyond that memory singed into his mind. Linsanity started on Williams, and there's nowhere a basketball player in this world can go without hearing about this phenomenon. For a New Jersey Nets star, it's even worse. They share this market, but Deron Williams, a three-time All-Star, doesn't share the marquee with a three-week sensation, Jeremy Lin. And truth be told, it's hard to know if he ever will here. That's the power of Lin's hysteria, of the Knicks brand.
So yes, Williams wanted redemption at Madison Square Garden, and it belonged to him now. The Knicks young point guard needs to get used to it, because he's become the biggest target in the sport. From across the Hudson River, and across the basketball world, they're all coming for Jeremy Lin.
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