The handle never abandoned Deron Williams — he's still had that lethal crossover all year — but for most of this season, persistent ankle problems have sapped his elevation, keeping him in pain and largely earthbound.
Well, let's ask the Cleveland Cavaliers how D-Will's feeling these days:
Welcome back, Deron. Three cheers for juice cleanses and cortisone shots, huh?
Before shaking Wayne Ellington to the studs and finishing with that emphatic throwdown, the Brooklyn Nets point guard's last slam dunk in an NBA game had come at the 9:30 mark of the third quarter of a then-New Jersey win over the Philadelphia 76ers on April 13, 2012 — just 10 days shy of a full year ago. So when he navigated past the perimeter and gained the lane, he must have been thinking about it, right?
“I didn’t really plan it,” a smiling Williams said after the game, according to Tim Bontemps of the New York Post. “It’s just something that happened.”
Well, scripted or impromptu, it showed that Williams' bounce finally appears to be back — and as Bontemps notes, that's a pretty big deal, considering it wasn't that long ago that the pain in Williams' ankles was so intense that he physically couldn't get high enough off the floor to even consider dunking. It also lends credence to what both the numbers and our eyes have been telling us for the better part of seven weeks now — that Williams is closer to the All-NBA-caliber triggerman he was with the Utah Jazz than he has been at just about any point since heading east.
He's averaging 22.2 points and 7.9 assists per game since the All-Star break, making 46.9 percent of his shots, 43.4 percent of his 3-pointers and 86 percent of his free-throws; he's turning the ball over less frequently, looking for his own offense more often and giving opposing guards tons to think about ... now he can not only make them pay in the post, on catch-and-shoot opportunities or by dropping off pocket passes to rollers off high-screens, but he can actually explode to the cup, too.
As a reward for his skywalking effort — or, really, for the monster 27-point lead Brooklyn had rolled up through three quarters thanks in large part to a 38-16 second quarter in with Deron poured in 13 points on perfect 4 for 4 shooting — Williams got the last 12 minutes off. He finished with 24 points on 8 for 14 shooting, including a 4 for 6 mark from 3-point land, eight assists, three rebounds and just one turnover in 27 minutes of work as the Nets hammered the Cavs, 113-95, snapping a two-game losing streak and earning their franchise-record 21st road win of the season. The win gave the Nets a 5-3 record on an eight-game, 17-day road trip spurred by the arrival of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Barclays Center, which has left town to make way for P.J. Carlesimo and company to take on the Chicago Bulls on Thursday.
On the down side, even a winning road trip meant losing ground to the streaking New York Knicks, as Brooklyn now finds itself five games out of the Atlantic Division crown with just eight games remaining. On the up side, the Knicks did the Nets a bit of a favor by winning on Wednesday, giving Brooklyn a two-game lead over the Atlanta Hawks in the race for the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Add that into the borderline historic moment of D-Will's first dunk in ages, and you've got a pretty nice night for the Brooklyn boys.
Then again, Wednesday night's whitewashing also included Reggie Evans dunking on consecutive possessions, Jerry Stackhouse (yes, 38-year-old Jerry Stackhouse) dunking in traffic and MarShon Brooks making his first 10 shots en route to a game-high 27 points and seven assists. So, y'know, we should probably consider this whole game the outlier to end all outliers. For the Nets, at least. That actually sounds like just another run-of-the-mill night for a Swiss-cheese Cavaliers defense that's been rancid all year, now ranks 27th among 30 NBA teams in points allowed per possession and seems intent on getting its Fountains of Wayne on before season's end ... making them precisely the right kind of opposition for a feeling-fine Williams looking to soar.