Deron Williams' latest frustrating brush with ailing ankles had him bummed out, feeling almost as if he weren't truly a part of the Nets when he couldn't join his teammates in London.
"It was tough to not get to go on the trip with them and not be a part of that experience," Williams said Monday. "But at the same time, I had to do the work here."
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Looks as though he aced his first exam. Playing for the first time since getting platelet-rich plasma therapy two weeks ago, Williams had a solid return that left his teammates and coaches raving. After missing five games, he came off the bench -- marking the first time he's done that in nearly eight years -- and had 13 points, three assists and three rebounds in the Nets' 103-80 win over the Knicks at the Garden.
Williams, who said he would have no problem continuing to come off the bench, slid back into a key role on a team that is 7-1 in 2014, and his revival gave the Nets an emotional jolt.
"It gives us a huge boost because we need Deron," Paul Pierce said. "No matter how we've been playing, at the end of the day, if we are going to make some noise here in the East, we need what he's able to do. You saw what he was doing before he got injured. We need that Deron to come out here, be aggressive, be a facilitator and really lead."
Being unselfish didn't hurt, either. Williams, wanting to step in as seamlessly as possible, said he suggested to Jason Kidd that he be used in a reserve role Monday. The Nets had been rolling without him, riding Joe Johnson's hot hand, and the last thing he wanted to do was mess with their chemistry. So he came off the bench for the first time since February 2006, when he was with the Jazz.
"Just because we've been playing so well with that lineup, why shake things up?" Williams said. "It doesn't matter if I come off or start or whatever. I think the way Joe's been playing the first quarter, first halves, I don't want to disrupt that."
Williams, whose ankles didn't seem to bother him against the Knicks, has missed 16 games because of injury and has struggled to reach the level he played at in the last few months of 2012-13.
"He beats himself up a lot,'' Kevin Garnett said. "We try to get him to just back off a little bit. But [he has a] heart of a champion, man. Straight lion. He's one of our leaders for a reason.''
Perhaps, but with all the injuries he's dealt with, even Williams needs an injection of confidence every now and then. So getting reinforcement from the likes of Garnett, Pierce & Co. has done wonders for his psyche.
"It's been huge,'' Williams said. "They have more confidence in me than I think I have in myself. It's just frustrating. It's been tough to be out there, start out the season and I wasn't 100 percent. Not even close. Then I started to feel like I was getting my legs under me, and then get the ankle sprain, and then another ankle sprain. So it's kind of been like injury after injury. I feel like I'm getting my groove a little bit, then I've got to go out again. So it's been tough, sitting out here and there, not getting a rhythm. It's been tough.''