BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Before facing his old team Tuesday night, Deron Williams created a stir by admitting he loved playing for the Utah Jazz and their smooth-running offense.
"That system (in Utah) was a great system for my style of play. I'm a system player, and I loved coach (Jerry) Sloan's system," the former Jazz point guard said at Monday's practice. "I loved the offense there. We could've been a really good team. We just weren't that good defensively as a group."
D-Will is the marquee man in Brooklyn and has a $98 million contract, but the Jazz's old offense isn't the only thing the All-Star point guard would trade with the team that traded him almost two years ago.
The Jazz took a while and had a 13-point deficit to overcome, but they gave D-Will another deal he didn't like — a 92-90 comeback win over his Brooklyn Nets.
It was the third defeat Williams has suffered against his former team, which sent him to the Nets in New Jersey for Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, two first-round picks (one being Enes Kanter) and $3 million in February 2011.
"We had a sizeable lead again," said Williams, lamenting the fact the Nets blew a 57-44 halftime lead. "We just came out flat, had a couple of turnovers. We were careless with the ball, had no energy, and let them come back in the game."
Ironically, it was the Jazz's defense that foiled Williams' hopes this time.
Utah clamped down and held the Nets to 33 points on 33-percent shooting in the second half, helping the Jazz snap a two-game skid while improving to 14-12 overall and 5-10 on the road.
"We picked it up defensively," said Favors, who had 13 points and three blocked shots against the team that traded him his rookie year. "We came out and played a lot more aggressive, played with a faster pace, and we just picked it up defensively, with everyone playing their part and playing hard. That was a team effort."
The Williams that's now running the show for the Jazz outdueled his unrelated predecessor with the same last name. Point guard Mo Williams missed 11 of 17 shots and had five turnovers, but he scored a team-high 19 points, dished out six assists, hit a big go-ahead 3-pointer and took a key charge from D-Will late in the game to lead Utah.
"I'm very good friends with D-Will. It's no rivalry. I respect his game a lot," Mo Williams said. "He's one of the top-tier point guards in the NBA. There's no question, no doubt about it. I just look forward to playing against those guys. I've been underrated my whole career."
The Jazz tried to throw it away in the final moments.
First, Utah, ahead by four with 31.6 seconds left, had some miscommunication when Gordon Hayward's inbound pass to Mo Williams went to the point guard's left and to Brooklyn.
Ex-Hawk Joe Johnson, who had a game-high 21 points, cut the Jazz lead to two with a pair of free throws with 22.1 seconds remaining.
Right after that, Al Jefferson and DeMarre Carroll had a bad inbounds exchange, setting up a wild finish.
"I don’t remember bad stuff. I don’t remember that," Jefferson joked. "I heard DeMarre call a timeout. Plus, I felt like I was fouled and the ball got loose. So many things started happening at one time.
"Luckily, they didn't make the shot," Jefferson added, "because I was really feeling down on myself."
Millsap teased Jefferson in the locker room that it was a good thing it turned out for Utah.
That escape didn't happen, however, until Gerald Wallace's game-winning 3-point attempt and Reggie Evans' putback both clanged off the rim in the final seconds.
As for D-Will, he finished with 14 points on 5-for-12 shooting, five assists and three turnovers. Williams had a wild shot and the offensive foul in the final two minutes.
It was yet another subpar showing for the playmaker, who openly admits he's not the same player he was in Utah — in part because of nagging injuries, but also because he claimed to not have had as much talent surrounding him as he did with the Jazz. Williams, only shooting 39 percent this season, is also trying to adapt to a system with more isolation plays than the flex offense he ran under Sloan.
Hours before tipoff, Williams defended his pro-Utah comments that some took as being a slight to the Nets and coach Avery Johnson.
“There’s nothing to it. You asked me about Utah, my time in Utah. I’m not going to bad-mouth Utah. I had a great time in Utah. I loved the offense," Williams, who had his struggles with Sloan before the Hall of Famer resigned during the 2010-11 campaign, told media at Tuesday's shootaround.
"I said that we’ve had struggles on offense here (and) I haven’t felt as comfortable here, which I’ve said all year. It hasn’t changed. My stance hasn’t changed. I said that I can adapt to any offense and I’m working towards that.”
Williams will get his next chance to work toward a first victory against the Jazz when the Nets, who are 13-11 after an 11-4 start, visit Utah on March 30.
“I’m not going to get into it anymore, because it’s not benefiting anybody,” Williams said when pressed with more questions. “We’re a good team. We can be a good team. We just got to play better.”
For the Jazz, this was just the result they were looking for to begin a four-game pre-Christmas trip that continues tonight in Indiana before weekend games in Miami and Orlando.
"You can't win them all if you don't get the first one," Mo Williams said. "This is a good start."
NOTES: Twenty-two months later, Deron Williams didn't take the chance to bash on the Jazz for trading him. Last year, he even credited Kevin O'Connor for making a good business decision just because nobody knew what D-Will would do when his contract expired after 2011-12. "I understand what they were doing," Williams told reporters Monday. "It was smart on their point, because there was a possibility that I wouldn't have come back." Williams signed a five-year deal with the Nets this offseason. Favors on playing his old team: "It is over and done with now. I do not care. I felt more about it last year, but it is over with. You grow up and move on from it." Marvin Williams had his first double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Big Al had his 14th: 16 points, 11 boards.
EMAIL: [email protected]