BROOKLYN — Jason Kidd was not in the building when the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks met for the first time ever at Barclays Center on Monday night. Dealing with back spasms, Kidd couldn’t make the trip across the bridge.
But Deron Williams was there, and he had a little Kidd in his game on this night, leading the Nets to a 96-89 overtime victory with a season-high 14 assists.
Williams admired Kidd growing up in Dallas, and when it comes to size and strength at the point guard position, there’s certainly a comparison to be made. But skill-wise, they’re pretty different. And when it comes to making brilliant, how-did-he-see-that-angle passes that set up teammates for easy buckets, nobody in the post-Magic era compares to Kidd.
On Monday, though, Williams had that (no pun intended) magic in his hands.
When he needs to shoot the ball, those hands have been failing Williams of late. Dealing with injuries to his wrist and elbow, he shot just 6-for-17 on Monday and has made just four of his last 25 3-point attempts.
His numbers were far from overwhelming on Monday. But the vision Williams showed — he had as many assists as the Knicks had as a team — more than made up for the errant shots. It was a close to a Kidd-like performance as you’re going to see from another point guard.
Eight of Williams’ 14 dimes were for buckets in the restricted area — high-percentage looks that helped the Nets accumulate 48 points in the paint in what was an offensive struggle at times. Williams found Brook Lopez in transition, Gerald Wallace cutting backdoor, Lopez rolling to the rim and Kris Humphries under the basket for an easy dunk. He even had one pass that was so good that Reggie Evans (17 field goal attempts in 239 minutes this season) had no choice but to put the ball in the basket.
A couple of Williams’ assists came on simple passes around the perimeter, but most were difficult, thread-the-needle dimes through traffic — the kind of highlights that Kidd would be proud of.
“He gift wraps buckets for me,” Lopez said afterward. “He makes my job so much easier.”
Perhaps, until he’s healthy and his shots are falling, Williams needs to be more of a distributor. He certainly has enough talent around him where he doesn’t need to carry much of the scoring load. And he also has the size to take point guards into the post and pick defenses apart from the low block, where many of his assists came from on Monday.
The atmosphere at Barclays Center for the first Brooklyn-New York game was electric. And though the winner of the game was not given a key to the city, it did have importance beyond the standings on Tuesday morning. Both these teams feel like they belong behind the Heat on the Eastern Conference contender list. And it’s games like this that will get them there.
It was one of 82, but Williams wasn’t afraid to admit that this one was a little special. And though Carmelo Anthony (35), Tyson Chandler (28) and Lopez (22) were the game’s leading scorers, it was Williams who made the biggest impact.
“Deron is a big-stage player,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “He really dominated the game.”
Knicks-Nets was always Kidd’s showcase. When he played in these games for New Jersey, he owned the Knicks and Madison Square Garden. The Nets were 23-4, including a postseason sweep in 2004, against New York with Kidd in uniform. He was (and still is) a special player on any given night, but you always got Hall-of-Fame-level Jason Kidd when the Knicks were the opponent.
Knicks-Nets has a whole new feel to it now that it’s a borough-vs-borough affair, and now that Kidd is wearing the blue and orange. And maybe it’s Williams’ time to make an impact on the rivalry. He got off to a pretty good start on Monday.