BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Across the final months of the Barclays Center's construction, the Nets were forever marching Deron Williams through this magnificent edifice wearing a hard-hat and that exasperated disposition. Never impressed, never easy, Williams was welcomed to deliver his input into locker rooms, lighting, whatever would inspire him to push closer to committing to the long-term at the new arena.
And so here it was, opening night of the preseason and Avery Johnson had gone the unnecessary step of reinserting Williams into the game's late minutes to ensure the Nets coach wouldn't be burdened with the blame of losing a lousy exhibition to the Washington Wizards.
Between Williams checking back into the game and the final buzzer, Johnson had invited the trouble of Washington guard A.J. Price, a native son of New York's Long Island who bumped Williams on a breakaway drive to the basket and pushed into Williams' mug declaring, "I'M HOME… I'M HOME…"
Williams rolled his eyes, laughed and blurted back to Price something that Nets general manager Billy King had worked so relentlessly to hear Williams declare within Barclays: "This is my home now."
After a 98-88 victory over the Wizards was done, Williams sniffed some Brooklyn attitude about the journeyman guard trying to mess with him. "He had some boys in the crowd he wanted to impress while he still can, in the little minutes he's going to get this year," Williams said.
Opening night comes on Nov. 1, comes with the New York Knicks here, but Monday was a threshold for the Nets. For nine long years, this franchise chased a basketball game here and it finally happened. It didn't matter that the players could still hear drilling in warmup lines, that workers were still banging hammers on stairways leading down to the court.
Williams called it a touch of "chaos" still, but 14,219 fans for a preseason game was unheard of across the river in Jersey on most regular-season nights. Brooklyn is a basketball borough, and it'll be demanding of Williams and these Nets. The novelty will wear off, and the Nets will need to beat the Knicks and be competitive in the Eastern Conference to become a credible entity here. King has assembled a fine roster for Johnson and Williams, and there's immense pressure on them to deliver.
"These are high basketball IQ fans here," Nets center Brook Lopez said. "They know the game here."
Which is so much of the reason that Johnson confessed to treating this far, far differently than a preseason game. Even Williams had to laugh over Johnson re-inserting him into the game late, and his eyes bugged over the score sheet that told him his coach had played Joe Johnson 38 minutes.
"I thought it was important," Avery Johnson said. "When we get more people in the building, it's going to be crazy. We wanted to make the fans at home feel good about our team."
They walked out of the Barclays Center understanding that a superstar plays here every night now, a snarling, snarky D-Will bringing some Brooklyn discourse to Monday night. Poor A.J. Price never stood a chance. This is Deron Williams' home now, his franchise. Finally.
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