Deron Williams‘ season can be described many ways, and as it stands, many of them aren’t flattering: coach-killer and career-worst shooter are two. Of his own self-evaluation, he told reporters Tuesday, “I don’t think I’m playing like [an elite point guard]. I think I can be. But I’ve just got to figure this thing out.” Before Avery Johnson was fired as Brooklyn head coach, Williams laid blame for why he wasn’t playing elite at the feet of the team’s offensive system. Now with that coach gone, the $98-million dollar man must feel the weight of expectations fully focused on him. It’s a good thing, then, that one of the unquestioned good-luck charms of his career returns tonight: Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook.
To say the two elite guards thrive on one another is accurate, and yet still doesn’t convey the showdowns’ quality. Try this, then: In a dozen games against one another, Westbrook has failed to score at least 20 points just twice, while Williams has scored at least 25 points five times. In his career, Williams’ per-game scoring against Oklahoma City/Seattle is tied for his fourth-highest against any team, at 19.2 points per game.
The familiarity in tonight’s game extends beyond the Olympic teammates, with interim Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo once being the head coach in the Thunder’s inaugural season before being fired and replaced by Scott Brooks. Carlesimo saw the earliest stages of Kevin Durant and Westbrook’s careers, but Williams has seen both blossom up close. Williams and Westbrook may be on divergent paths of success at the moment, but if there are a handful of matchups that bring out the best in both, facing each other is near the top. You don’t have to take my word for it — look at their numbers. Here’s the top 10 showdowns of Westbrook and Williams’ careers.
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10. January 21, 2012
Westbrook was money in the Prudential Center, in one of the more muted matchups in this series’ history. His team-high 21 points and six assists came at the expense of Williams, whose 14 points and six assists came on a night of high-volume shooting, just 5-of-18. When Williams switched off Westbrook on a screen, Westbrook hit a jumper in a big man-guard mismatch. The next time Williams fought through a pick, Westbrook lobbed a back-door alley-oop to Durant from the three-point arc.
It wasn’t a good night for D-Will. In this series, it is his worst.