Deron Williams has never felt completely healthy in the two seasons the Knicks and Nets have occupied the same city.
That changed Friday when Williams ran the Nets’ motion offense perfectly for an efficient 29 points during a 110-99 victory over the Knicks.
“He’s being more of an attacker now,” Joe Johnson said. “He’s really been aggressive. He’s doing it to win, period.”
“He led the floor game early on, then he started attacking,” Nets head coach Lionel Hollins said. “Once he started feeling good, he became difficult to guard.”
Williams had four games over 25 points last year but none were this early when ankle issues plagued him and became another storyline during a slow start. He never fully recovered and by the time Game 6 of the first round against Toronto rolled around, someone had taped a “Missing” poster featuring Williams on a streetlight along Atlantic Avenue.
“The last two years have been a struggle,” Williams said. “But they’re behind me now. [I was] looking forward to this one and we got a win tonight.”
Six months and two surgically repaired ankles later, Williams showed he was capable of fully taking over a game. He shot 10-of-15, and scored 12 of his points in the third quarter when the Nets extended a 55-42 halftime lead to 86-68.
And in the biggest indication that his ankles are not bothering him, half his points in the third came on baskets from within five feet. He wound up with his second-most points in 21 career games against the Knicks and could have approached the 38 points he had in February 2012 had the game been closer.
“I had a couple of drives when I felt like I had the good quick first step,” Williams said. “I’m able to get by people a little bit better than last year and I’m doing a better job of finishing.”
As important as Williams was, the other members of the Nets’ star trio played effective as well. Williams, Johnson and Brook Lopez combined for 67 points as they shot 20-of-38 and made 17 free throws. Games like Friday have been rare from the trio.
“Obviously that hasn’t been the case my three years here,” Johnson said. “We are going to take it one game at a time, keep guys healthy and we will see what happens.”
While the Nets had an easy time of it, it was a struggle most of the night for the Knicks with their new Triangle offense. For most of the night, it seemed like the Knicks were running a combination of isolation plays and freelance offense.
The Knicks shot 41.1 percent, a figure aided by a meaningless fourth quarter.
Carmelo Anthony was 5-of-20 for 19 points and he missed 14 of his last 17 attempts and the Knicks did not lead over the final 43:12.
“We just have to stick with the process and continue to build our habits,” Knicks head coach Derek Fisher said. “I think we all have that responsibility despite adversity or struggles to still own it, embrace the moment, hold yourself accountable and do your job.”
In the meantime, the search for the rivalry to reach its potential will continue in the next meeting on Dec. 2 at Madison Square Garden.
Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.