CLEVELAND - Talk about a helpless feeling.
The Nets' Deron Williams could only watch his revamped team while playing the role of a glorified cheerleader and a pseudo coach as he sat out the fourth quarter Wednesday night, his minutes limit reached in the third quarter of his team's season opener against the Cavaliers. The Nets didn't want to overdo it with their point guard who missed the bulk of the preseason with a sprained ankle, so they lassoed him in a way that would ease him back into the flow.
So the guy they consider the team's engine was basically up on blocks, unable to rev the likes of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson when they needed it against the Cavaliers. With Williams on the bench, the shiny new Nets didn't have enough to rally back from a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit, and lost, 98-94, at Quicken Loans Arena.
"I didn't know how they were going to break up my minutes," said Williams, who took a seat midway through the third quarter and never returned. "I was a little surprised when they said I wasn't going back in. So I was just trying to cheer my team on and hope for a win.
"It was tough to get in a rhythm when you're limited like that. It seemed every time I did, I was coming out. So it's tough. It's tough to play like that. But that's what I have to do for my team right now."
Nets assistant coach Joe Prunty, filling in as acting coach for Jason Kidd as he serves his two-game suspension for his DUI incident, said the plan for Williams got a little out of whack when backup Shaun Livingston collected his third foul in the second quarter.
"That was one of the things we talked about pregame, that the game has a flow to it," Prunty said. "And so we made our adjustments with the foul trouble that happened, and that's something that every game is going to make you change what you're doing. You just have to be prepared for it, and fortunately we were."
Perhaps, but wouldn't it have been better to have Williams available for the stretch run, particularly with someone like Kyrie Irving to corral?
"It's a team game, and we all step up," Prunty said. "That's how it is, and that's what we do. That's Brooklyn Nets basketball. We're all ready to play. That's what the preseason is for, getting comfortable with one another. Would we like him out there? Sure. But we're ready to go if he's not."
Even with Williams on the bench and despite their second-half struggles, the Nets felt they should've had enough to overtake the youthful Cavs, who got an emotional boost with Andrew Bynum's return, playing in a game for the first time since 2012. They climbed back to tie it on three different occasions in the fourth quarter, but never hit the big shot and were partly undone by 16 offensive rebounds by the Cavaliers.
Trailing 93-91 with 16.9 seconds remaining, Pierce missed a stepback jumper just inside the three-point line, making the Nets losers in the first game of their highly anticipated season.
Garnett knows this is all going to take some time.
"Anxious. Anxiety," he said. "Everybody wanted it right here, right now. That's not the process. The process is going to be something gradual, something we all work into and all flow into and we all have to be patient with that process."
Apparently, that attitude is going to have to be adopted with Williams, too. But he’s hoping the staff will alter the script, all so this doesn’t happen again until his minutes restriction is lifted.
“Maybe we’ll talk about it,” Williams said. “But it would be hard for me to sit -- I don’t know how much real time it would be -- the middle of the third quarter to the end of the fourth quarter. That’s a long time sitting out and it would be tough for me to get going after that.”
Just like it was tough for Williams’ teammates to not have him out on the court in the closing moments, something Johnson got used to in his first season together with Williams.
"It was big, man,” Johnson said. “We needed him to be out there to orchestrate things and the fact he couldn't be was tough."
Said Pierce: “Obviously Deron is going to be key for us down the stretch. So whenever we get his minutes up to where he can close out games, we’re going to be a different team.”