During this year’s playoffs, Atlanta Hawks guard Lou Williams had been out of character, a player blending in, trying to go with the flow, a veteran watching as the young franchise player led the way.
Ever since he started his career, going directly from South Gwinnett High in Snellville, Ga., to the 76ers, who made him a second-round pick in 2005, Williams has been a player who made things happen, usually immediately.
The 6-foot-1 guard has always been a creator, at times a relentless scorer who had the ability to cut the collective heart out of a team with that fadeaway jumper off the dribble that seems out of reach for any aspiring defender.
Williams didn’t become the NBA’s sixth man of the year three times by simply blending in, and on Wednesday night, the old Williams resurfaced, much to the chagrin of the Sixers faithful.
The Philadelphia sports community is still stunned after the Hawks erased a 26-point deficit in the first half — and 25 points with 3 minutes, 19 seconds left in the third quarter — to beat the Sixers, 109-106, and take a three-games-to-two lead in their best of seven Eastern Conference semifinal.
The Hawks could send the Sixers packing Friday with a win in Game 6 in Atlanta. None of this would have occurred without the heroics of Williams.
In the first four playoff games in this series, Williams averaged 7.8 points in 13.3 minutes per game. He plays the same position as the Hawks’ best player, point guard Trae Young. Previously in this series, interim coach Nate McMillan had used the two together for brief spurts, but since each is defensively challenged, it isn’t something that might work for long stretches.
On Wednesday, McMillan was desperate for scoring.
Williams was scoreless at halftime and only had one field-goal attempt. Even by the end of the third quarter, he had just two points. Then the old Williams emerged in the fourth quarter, when was 6-for-8 from the field, including 1-for-3 from beyond the arc, for 13 points.
Williams knows when one of these rolls is ready to happen and he just tried to ride it as long as he could.
“You give me an inch, I try to take a foot, you give me a foot, I try to take a mile and before you know it, the basket looks like the ocean to me and I start playing with a lot of confidence and then everybody else starts playing with it and you know, it just starts clicking,” Williams said after the game.
The Hawks entered the fourth quarter trailing by 18 points. Young was getting a rest and when he reappeared with 8:55 left, Atlanta still trailed by 13. This time McMillan left Williams in the game with Young.
“I didn’t plan to go that way, but it was working,” McMillan said about his point guard pairing. “I wanted to get Trae back on the floor and Lou was scoring the ball for us.”
Young matched Williams with 13 fourth-quarter points. The two guards outscored the Sixers by 26-19 in the final quarter. The Hawks owned a 40-19 advantage over the final 12 minutes.
“Lou started that fourth quarter aggressive, attacking, scoring, and it really opened up everything else for us,” Young said.
In scoring 15 points, Williams hit one three-pointer, but he’s really an old-school guard who excels in the mid-range game. Five of his seven field goals were mid-range jumpers off the dribble, while two more came on floaters.
Williams, who played for Sixers coach Doc Rivers with the L.A. Clippers, was dealt by the Clippers along with two second-round picks to Atlanta for Rajon Rondo at the March 25 trade deadline.
Williams averaged 10 points in 24 regular-season games with the Hawks.
At 34, Williams appears more than happy to be that sage, old veteran that Atlanta needs. one who can sometimes turn back the clock and become a basketball assassin as he did on Wednesday.