It has been rather easy to forget this, with the Nets lame-ducking their way through a final sad season in New Jersey before the presumed riches of Brooklyn await, but Deron Williams is one of the twenty best basketball players in the world. He has spent most of the season watching Kris Humphries and Anthony Morrow and Johan Petro clanking away his pitch-perfect passes, and he's had a terrible shooting year because he's trying to do too much, and he's rather obviously ready for this season to just end already ... but nothing this year has raised his dander more, it now seems clear, than being the initial punch line and launchpad for the Jeremy Lin phenomenon. How frustrating it must have been, to be an Olympian and All-Star who until last year was in an unofficial ongoing competition with Chris Paul, to watch the sporting world go crazy over a D-League reject just across the water. Suffice it to say, Williams worked through some issues last night.
Williams went a little nuts last night, scoring 38 vengeful points in a 100–92 upset win over the Carmelo-plentiful Knicks. He hit eight three-pointers and obviously relished every minute, a polar opposite of the February 4 night when Lin came off the bench and torched Williams and kicked off the madness of the last seventeen days. The Nets were 15-of-31 from three-point range, and on one hand you can blame that a little on Iman Shumpert (the Knicks' best perimeter defender) sitting out, but also sometimes teams get fired up and hot and you can't do much about it. Just three days ago, the Nets hammered the first-place Bulls in Chicago, and they lost at home to a struggling Bucks team Sunday, and then they couldn't miss against the Knicks last night. It's a chaotic, packed season in which weird blips like this are gonna pop up regularly.
The problem for the Knicks is that they've had a few too many of these already. They've lost at home this year to Charlotte, Toronto, Phoenix, New Orleans, and now New Jersey, and even your wild wins over Dallas and the Lakers and the 76ers won't make up for those. This season is short, and the schedule's about to get tougher. The Bulls can laugh off losses like the one to the Nets because they're so rare; the Knicks, facing such massive turnover on a game-to-game basis, are starting to pile up these supposed aberrations. It's terrific to take out the Mavericks in front of a frenzied crowd, but it doesn't do you much good if you're going to turn right around and lose to the Nets at home.
Also, the New Jersey Nets can now say they won their last-ever game at the Garden. So there is that.
The good news is that Carmelo Anthony, in his return and in his first full game with Linsanity in full swing, didn't mess up the flow of the offense. He looked rusty and a bit off, but that's to be expected; he's Carmelo Anthony, eventually he'll be knocking down jumpers and not missing layups. The problem last night was that the Knicks, particularly Jeremy Lin, just looked tired, which is a bigger problem considering the Nets were the team playing their third game in three nights. The defensive intensity — the real, secret reason for the Linsanity surge — was limp all evening, and Lin himself, forced to go to his left ever more often now, didn't seem to have the energy and push that has set the Knicks ablaze over the last fortnight-plus. And the whole team was out of sync, which is quite logical considering how little practice time they've had with each other. (They're not practicing today either, curiously.) The Knicks are still packed with talent — part of Williams's outburst seemed based on his envy that Lin has so many more weapons to utilize than he does — but it's going to take a while to make this into a consistent unit.
The question is whether or not that time is there. After last night's game, the season is officially half over for the Knicks; they're 16-17, with the easier part of their schedule already over with. (Seriously, the beginning of March is just brutal.) It would behoove the Knicks to win at least one of their two games remaining before the All-Star Break, at home against Atlanta tomorrow and at Miami on Thursday. Going into the All-Star Break three games under .500 and facing that schedule, the pressure will immediately be on everybody. And if we've learned anything from the Linsanity run, it's that the Knicks are at their best when everything is running free and easy and smoothly. Carmelo Anthony is back, and Baron Davis has shown up (and looked all right), and J.R. Smith is on the team, and the Knicks have all these weapons and that is great, and it's going to take time and effort to figure everything out and everyone understands that. But that doesn't change the fact that while all this transition is happening, the Knicks still need to win games. The season is halfway over. It's later than you think.