DALLAS – With Monta Ellis now playing for the Indiana Pacers and Dirk Nowitzki getting up there in age, the Dallas Mavericks knew they had to find themselves another go-to guy over the offseason.
They definitely found one in Deron Williams.
Signed to a two-year, $11 million free agent contract over the summer, Williams showed another sign Friday night against the Utah Jazz why he can be trusted with the ball with the game on the line. With the Jazz closing in on the Mavs, Williams nailed a 3-point basket to pad the Mavs’ lead to 95-87 with two minutes left.
A pair of free throws by Williams gave Dallas a 100-91 lead with 1:05 left and prevented any chances the Jazz had of making a valiant comeback.
The Mavs went on to win their sixth consecutive game, 102-93, and are now 9-4 on the year. And a lot of the credit goes to Williams, who is now feeling more and more comfortable being the Mavs’ go-to guy down the stretch.
"When I got here and talked to coach (Rick Carlisle) he told me that the ball was going to be in my hands,’’ Williams said. "I know Monta had the ball a lot last year, so I kind of filled a little bit of that role.
"It’s a good feeling to have the ball in your hands at the end of games, and not only make plays for myself but for my teammates.’’
Williams finished Friday’s contest at American Airlines Center with game highs in points (23), assists (eight) and steals (three). It was as if the former Jazz superstar was not going to allow the Mavs to lose this game.
"Deron Williams finished the game off for us,’’ Carlisle said. "We played off of him the last two-and-a-half minutes and he delivered.’’
Williams’ performance was another reason why the Mavs wanted to be in position to claim him off waivers after he was bought out of contract by the Brooklyn Nets. However, nagging injuries with both of his calves limited Williams to just one preseason game and slowed his progress.
Carlisle, though, believes Williams’ injury issues are about to be a thing of the past.
"It’s all going in the right direction,’’ Carlisle said. "It’s been an unusual situation because of the training camp nagging injuries, but he’s doing the work and the dividends are showing.
"We have the kind of team where everyone has to work extremely hard to keep their edge and keep everything the way it needs to be. He is setting a really strong example.’’
Williams scored 12 of his points in the second half and helped the Mavs build a 76-56 lead midway through the third quarter.
The Mavs were coming off a 3-0 road trip, which ended when they bounced back from an 18-point deficit to win in Boston, 106-102, on Wednesday. Williams didn’t know if the Mavs would suffer a letdown after such a successful road trip.
"This is a great win for us,’’ Williams said. "Any time you come off the road you have a tendency to let down, and we didn’t let that happen.’’
Not given a chance by any of the NBA experts, the Mavs picked up a game on San Antonio after the Spurs surprisingly lost to the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday, 104-90. The Mavs are now just half-a-game behind the Spur (9-3) for first place in the Southwest Division.
Comeback wins like the one the Mavs executed against the Jazz are what’s giving this team a boat load of confidence as they embark on a three-game road trip which starts Sunday in Oklahoma City.
"We lost the first quarter (26-21), but we kept playing and battling,’’ Williams said. "Our execution was great, especially down the stretch, and I thought we did a great job defensively.’’
Jazz coach Quin Snyder noticed that Williams looked very focused against his team, for whatever reasons.
"He played very well,’ Snyder said. "There was a determination he had and I’m sure playing against your old team there’s some motivation on some level.’’
Dwain Price can be heard every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m. on dfwiradio.com.