With his Brooklyn Nets struggling to stay alive in South Beach, the three-time All-Star went MIA as the Miami Heat turned a two-point lead into a 12-point cushion over the final 6:55 of their 94-82 win Thursday night.
Had Brooklyn gotten something—anything—from Williams, it might be headed home with a 1-1 series split. Instead, it'll carry an 0-2 deficit back to Barclays Center with some uncomfortable questions about how, in the biggest game of the season, its franchise star could lay a $98 million goose egg:
He attacked the basket, fired from the perimeter or pulled up in between, but the results never changed: miss, miss, miss. He launched nine shots on the night, misfired on all of them and went without a free-throw attempt for the second straight game.
"It was the kind of performance the Nets simply couldn't afford from their star player on the road when they knew their chances of turning this into a deep series were much greater if they left South Beach with a split," wrote Tim Bontemps of the New York Post.
Not every analyst held as many punches:
This was Williams' 60th career playoff game and his first without a single notch in the scoring column. He became just the second starter over the last 10 seasons (regular season or playoffs) to log at least 35 minutes, attempt at least nine shots from the field and be held scoreless, per Elias Sports Bureau, Inc. (via ESPN.com).
The loss stings not only for its significance—the Nets now have to take four of the next five games against the lone undefeated team of this postseason—but also for how close it came to having an entirely different ending.
LeBron James (by his standards) looked human: 22 points, four rebounds and three assists. Chris Bosh scored an efficient 18 points (7-of-13 shooting), but only two of them came in the final 11 minutes. Dwyane Wade put up 14 points but needed 11 shots to get there.
The Nets got major boosts from role players like Mirza Teletovic (20 points, 6-of-9 from deep), Shaun Livingston (15 points, five boards) and Marcus Thornton (10 points). Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson weren't great (combined 11-of-25 from the field), but they weren't completely silent, either (26 points).
Williams played a decent floor game (seven rebounds, six assists), but he had to give more at the offensive end. His veteran teammates had trouble creating separation from their obviously athletically superior opponents, leaving the Nets' hopes riding on a Williams takeover.
That never happened.
Brooklyn wasn't asking Williams for a miracle; it just needed some type of return on its steep investment in his skills. The Nets, mind you, would have never signed off on this exorbitant tax ball, sacrificed so many draft picks and left themselves a paper-thin championship window unless they were convinced D-Will could lead them through it.
"Every move we've made since we acquired Deron Williams," a team official told ESPN New York's Ian O'Connor, "was made because of Deron Williams."
Well, "D-Won't" be taking them anywhere. You wonder if his wheels are worn beyond repair, worry that "D-Can't" ever recover:
Thursday's game should have been shocking, and that donut in the box score certainly grabs your attention.
The number is shocking, but the narrative is not. Brooklyn begging for a superstar effort and Williams falling well short of that mark kind of sums up his tenure, doesn't it?
The Nets were hoping Williams could carry them to elite status. Well, they're still sitting on the outside looking in, and Williams has joined them out in the cold, as ESPN New York's Mike Mazzeo explained:
This was not what the Nets envisioned when they decided to give Williams the keys to their franchise.
They expected more. So much more.
But all the injuries. The confidence problems. His desire to win frequently called into question.
All of it has hampered Williams, preventing him from reclaiming his place among the NBA’s top floor generals.
Williams hasn't even looked like the top floor general in this series, which is terrifying for the Nets considering how little the Heat ask of Mario Chalmers.
This hasn't been a fall from grace for Brooklyn's franchise star, but rather a full-on nosedive. He used to be a legitimate threat for Chris Paul's point guard throne. Now you wonder how long coach Jason Kidd can afford to keep him on the floor:
The Nets, of course, don't have any other options. Why would they? Teams are supposed to build around their superstars not behind them.
Brooklyn did its job. This supporting cast isn't spectacular, but it's good enough to get the job done.
Now, it's time for Williams to do his. He has to give those role players a superstar talent worth supporting.
When he's made an elite-level impact, the Nets have been at their best. He's had three games with at least 22 points this season—all three Brooklyn wins, by an average of 8.3 points. In the six games he's been held below 20 points, the Nets are 1-5 and have been outscored 47 points.
That's why that search party is still out scouring the Brooklyn streets for its lost leader. The Nets, assuming they aren't buried already, are dead men walking if Williams isn't found soon.