Every now and then, Kevin Garnett channels his inner old-school uncle mentality, throwing an arm around Deron Williams in a sense.
Williams can be a complex tangle of emotions on the court, a byproduct of competitive juices that burn so hot that he shows his frustrations openly when things aren't going well. One of the many reasons the Nets parted with three first-round picks to bring Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn was to help show Williams how to be a champion.
Garnett sees certain similarities in Williams that he witnessed up close with the Celtics' Rajon Rondo, although Garnett said, "Rondo is a little more crazier than Deron is." But they both have that perfectionist nature, and Garnett makes sure he stays in Williams' ear, underscoring the importance of letting things go and not letting them linger.
"When things get tough, he has a support system to let him know that it's not the end of the world, and not to be so hard on himself," Garnett said after practice Sunday, about 15 hours after the Nets returned home after Saturday's 94-87 Game 1 win over Toronto in their Eastern Conference first-round series. They'll head across the border again for Tuesday night's Game 2 at Air Canada Centre.
"I think Deron's biggest problem had been Deron,'' Garnett said. "He's very, very hard on himself to the point where you have to pull him to the side . . . and when he comes out of that, aw, man. He's very, very hard to guard, very difficult to deal with and we need him to be like that.''
"We are taking some of the grit off of him. So he doesn't have to be so talkative, but understanding that we are following you. So how you go is how we are going to go, and I think he's getting more comfortable with that position."
In Saturday's victory, Williams displayed some of the mental fortitude the Nets want from their $98-million man. After initially getting shut out in his first few attempts to go hard to the basket, Williams remained aggressive but under control.
His decision-making was on point, as he turned the ball over only once. On the way to 24 points, he stuck to the Nets' main game plan: Get into the teeth of Toronto's tough interior defense, either looking to score efficiently and under control or set the table for others.
"He's doing a great job of mixing it up, but at the end of the day, we want Deron to just be himself, be aggressive," Pierce said. "We need him to score the ball, we need him to facilitate. We need him to do everything. He has a huge responsibility on this team and that's why he gets paid the big bucks, because we need him to do everything possible."
Toronto had trouble handling Williams' interior assault, and center Jonas Valanciunas expects the Raptors to come up with an answer by game time. They'll need some kind of countermove, because if Williams is able to break down Toronto's defense, the Nets believe they have more than enough weapons to put on an all-out assault.
"It gets everybody easy shots," Garnett said. "You see the head of the snake leading the charge, and I think it's good for D-Will, man. It puts him in aggressive mode. You can tell when he's passive, you can tell when he's aggressive. But when he's like that, it's very hard to deal with us most of the time, because he's putting pressure on bigs, he's putting pressure on guards, he's putting pressure on the paint, they're collapsing. It's very hard to guard that."
That's why Garnett works with his point guard. "It's good, man," Williams said. "He does that for everybody. That's 'Ticket.' He's constantly talking to people, he's constantly voicing his opinion. He's not going to hold anything back, he's not going to sugarcoat anything, and we love that and respect that about him. That's what makes him him. So it's definitely helped me and it's helped us as a team."