Nets 107, Timberwolves 105
If this was Deron Williams' last game of the season, it was quite a closing performance.
Williams tied a career high with 21 assists and made a tiebreaking jumper with 1.7 seconds to play to lead the New Jersey Nets to a 107-105 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night.
Williams, who has battled a wrist injury since January, plans to see a hand and wrist specialist Wednesday, and could skip the rest of the season with New Jersey long out of playoff contention.
''There's a possibility this is the last one,'' said Williams, who finished with 18 points as the Nets snapped a six-game losing streak and extended the Timberwolves' slide to a season-high 11.
Williams, who was acquired from Utah just before the trading deadline, smiled when asked if this was a good way to go out.
''Yeah, with a win,'' he said.
If Williams does shut it down, the Nets will be hard pressed to win any of their five remaining games.
''I think the difference is very obvious between when he plays and when he doesn't,'' said Brook Lopez, who led New Jersey with 30 points and 12 rebounds. ''I'm not that much of a believer in numbers but there is no arguing against those numbers tonight.''
The victory was the Nets' 24th of the season, doubling their total of a year ago when they were the NBA's worst team.
This one wasn't secure until Michael Beasley's 3-point attempt bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
''It wasn't a great look but I thought Michael gave himself an opportunity to make it,'' Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis said. ''It kind of looked like it was going to hit, bounce up and go in. Unfortunately, it didn't.''
Beasley said the shot felt good.
''Obviously I don't want to shoot off balance like that all the time but once I released it I thought it was going to go in,'' said Beasley, who scored all 20 of his points in the second half.
Anthony Randolph also had 20 points for Minnesota.
Travis Outlaw added 13 points and Jordan Farmar had 12 for the Nets, who blew a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter before Williams saved the day.
Williams, who has struggled with his shooting the past month because of the wrist, didn't look for anyone to take the final shot. He took the inbounds pass and worked the ball to the left of the basket before elevating over the smaller Luke Ridnour and swishing his final attempt of a 6-for-15 night.
''It was just a clear-out play for me,'' Williams said. ''I had a couple of shots to win games since I have been here and haven't been able to find it. So I'm just happy I was able to get it to go down.''
Trailing by 13 with 8:22 to play, the Timberwolves used a 10-2 run to close the gap, but they didn't tie the game until Outlaw was called for a goaltending violation on a short shot by Beasley with 7.8 seconds to go.
Minnesota actually had a chance to take the lead seconds earlier. Down 104-103 with 31.5 seconds to go, Randolph made a steal near midcourt and drove ahead of the field for what seemingly was going to be a go-ahead basket with Lopez in pursuit.
However, Randolph somehow lost control of the ball and it went out of bounds.
Sasha Vujacic, who finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds for New Jersey, was fouled on the ensuring possession and made 1 of 2 free throws. Beasley tied it but Williams, who also had 21 assists for Utah against Memphis in January 2007, had the last answer for New Jersey.
Both teams played without key players. Kevin Love missed his fifth game in the past seven for Minnesota with a groin injury. Nets power forward Kris Humphries missed his third straight with ankle and heel problems.
NOTES: Nets small forward Anthony Morrow did not play because of tendinitis in left knee. ... The Nets' single-game record for assists is 29 by Kevin Porter in 1978. ... The NBA high for assists this season is 24 by Rajon Rondo of Boston.