Utah Jazz point guard Deron Williams is finishing only his third year in the NBA and is in the midst of only his second postseason. Yet his coach, Jerry Sloan, finishing up his 20th season at the helm of the Jazz, defers to Williams, letting him call the shots on the court.
"I kind of let him do what he does best," Sloan said.
Williams has shouldered a responsibility not assumed by even his most illustrious predecessor, John Stockton, one of the most successful point guards in league history.
"John could have done the same thing, but he felt more comfortable the other way," said Sloan, referring to Stockton's preference for having the plays called from the sideline by the coaching staff.
Of course, calling the shots becomes academic if you don't make your shots. Such was the case Sunday afternoon at Staples Center, where Williams, who made 50.7% of his shots from the field in the regular season, made only five of 18 as the Jazz lost the opener of its conference semifinal series against the Lakers, 109-98.
So did the 23-year-old Williams point the finger at himself for the defeat?
"The coach doesn't like me putting the blame on myself for a loss," Williams said, "but it's probably my fault. I can play a lot better offensively and defensively. The team feeds off me and my energy."
Williams was being a bit hard on himself. His uncharacteristic inaccuracy was but one of many factors that enabled the Lakers to remain unbeaten in the postseason after five games.
Overall, Utah shot only 37.9% from the field, played poorly defensively, turned the ball over 13 times and allowed Kobe Bryant to shoot 23 free throws, 21 of them hitting the mark.
"We missed a lot of open shots that we normally make," said Williams, who contributed a game-high nine assists along with nine rebounds. "A lot of it was just their defense in the second quarter. I thought their second group did a good job of coming in and pushing us outside farther out than we wanted to go. We didn't get those same easy looks we did in the first quarter."
The Lakers, on the other hand, got too many open looks, according to Utah's Mehmet Okur.
"We can't let them pass the ball any time they want, anywhere they want," Okur said.
The Jazz players can console themselves with the fact they dominated on the backboards, 58-41. Or they can bemoan the fact they lost in spite of that overwhelming superiority in a road game, a critical opportunity slipping away.
"The game," Okur said, "was right there for us."