Here is a lovely bucket from Deron Williams, in last night’s Eastern Conference clincher between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics:
I love the little high-stepping hesitation just before the burst to the hoop, as Williams spots Jae Crowder, the last defender back, turning his head to keep track of Kevin Love and Kyle Korver arrayed around the arc on the far side of the court. The hesitation gives Marcus Smart, the defender right in front of him, just enough time to settle onto his heels, and then, with a quick crossover, Williams is into and past him, leaning into Smart’s chest for the space to get a finger-roll up to the backboard before a late-arriving Crowder can challenge it.
This is exquisite Old Man Game, my friends. John Wall, a spry basketball youth, would have made his version of this move at the opposite three-point line and then outsprinted Smart the remaining 70 feet of floor; Williams, 32 years old and never exactly Secretariat even before his athleticism eroded during his mostly lost years in Brooklyn, isn’t here for a foot race, and couldn’t win one. The trick is to create that last little pocket of leverage, open just long enough to toss in a basket and get fouled, the only opportunity he actually needed and could get for himself.
It worked not because of any athletic advantage—Deron Williams possesses none!—but because of the fine granular feel for timing that comes from having played a fuck of a lot of basketball, certainly a lot more than Smart and Crowder; specifically, from playing through the diminishment of athletic gifts that once might have made a move like this unnecessary. It worked, that is to say, because Deron Williams is old. He weaponized his seniority. Somewhere, maybe, Andre Miller swelled with pride.
And then, around seven minutes later, Williams did it again!
This is hilarious. It’s the same damn bucket. A slight curve toward the middle of the floor, a brief hesitation to let the defense relax, then a quick, ruthless, unadorned left-to-right crossover and that lean into the defender’s body to create space for the shot. All of it at a comfortable three-quarters speed. (After this bucket and the ensuing very casual free-throw, my wife remarked that Williams is the most relaxed basketball player she’s ever watched.) When you’re old, you pace yourself.
By the time Williams brought the ball up in semi-transition 90 seconds later—this time from the left side of the floor—I knew what was coming.
Old Man Game! Once again, the canny hesitation, timed just long enough to let disciplined, robotic Al Horford convince himself he needed to find Tristan Thompson, and not long enough for Horford to remember there’s no good reason to worry about finding Tristan Thompson—then that little burst, just enough to turn the corner and get into that sweeping scoop shot. A younger player takes an extra dribble there; a cagey old fuck knows he doesn’t have time for that, or Crowder will recover and pin his shit to the backboard.
Listen. The overwhelming likelihood is that the Golden State Warriors, in their cruel, meticulous way, will spend the first two games of the Finals exposing Williams’s limitations and transforming him into an unplayable corncob. He did not return to stardom last night; he almost certainly never will. But for one glorious second quarter, Williams did not turn back the clock so much as he leaned hard into the meager benefits of being a crusty old fart, and it was extremely fun. He scored all 14 of his points in that quarter. When you’re old as hell, you gotta pick your spots.