Deron Williams was going to be the fall guy.
Though there would have been plenty of blame to go around had the Nets not beaten the Raptors, 97-83, Friday night and forced Game 7 in the first-round playoff series, no one would have gotten more of it than Williams.
Kyle Lowry, the Raptors point guard whose salary is about one-third of the $18 million the Nets are paying Williams, badly outplayed him in the Nets' losses in Games 4 and 5.
Frustration with the Nets playmaker reached a boiling point several hours before Friday night's game when an anonymous person taped up a poster with a mug shot of Williams and the words "Missing, have you seen this person?" on a post outside Barclays Center.
The poster offered a reward of $63,128,400, the amount of money left on Williams' contract over the next three seasons.
Photos of the poster went viral on Instagram and Twitter. And whether Williams knew about it, for most of the game he certainly played like he was bent on letting his presence be known.
Williams finished the game with 23 points, 20 of which came in the first three quarters. Then, despite twisting his ankle in the third quarter, he hit a huge three-pointer with 1:13 left in the game and the Raptors desperately trying to make a comeback.
"We're professional and everyone has the right to his opinion," Nets coach Jason Kidd said of the criticism Williams has received. "It just shows what type of player he is. He stood up to whatever was said and responded with one of his best games."
Lowry responded with one of his worst, scoring just 11 points, shooting 4-for-16.
"Tonight was a great team win led by Deron," Paul Pierce said. "He set the tone on both ends of the court."
"I knew I had to be more aggressive after the last two losses," Williams said. "I knew that's what my team needed me to do."
The bottom line is that when Williams plays well, so do the Nets. In their two wins before Friday night, he averaged 23 points and shot 44.1 percent with 1.5 turnovers. In their three losses? Williams averaged 12.7 points and shot 37.1 percent with 3.7 turnovers.
Said Kidd: "I think he showed he's a warrior. He had a lot of great looks. Some didn't go in. He was aggressive on both ends, offensively and defensively."