- Jerry Bembry
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- He's led the Nets in games played over the last three seasons, but he said little when he was benched for all of Game 2 of the NBA Finals.
He's a man of very few words, and the last thing you will hear from Aaron Williams' mouth is a complaint.
"Throughout my career, I know my job is to simply be ready," Williams said. "My main goal is to win -- I'm not worried about minutes."
When Williams does play, he produces. After Game 4, much was said about Kenyon Martin's 20 points and 13 rebounds, Richard Jefferson's breakout of his slump and Jason Kidd's clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch.
But the Nets don't tie the series at 2-2 if Williams doesn't get eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 17 highly efficient minutes. Instead of going down 3-1 in the series, the Nets guaranteed themselves a return trip to San Antonio with an opportunity on Friday to take a 3-2 series lead.
"I think everybody expected this series to be over or would not get back to San Antonio," Nets coach Byron Scott said. "The longer it goes, I think the better chance that we have."
"We were such underdogs, nobody gave us a real shot of winning this thing, except ourselves," Scott added. "We really felt from the time this series started that we matched up pretty well with San Antonio. We thought we had a good chance to win the championship."
And it's the moves made by Scott that has put the Nets in that position. His decision to put Kerry Kittles on Tony Parker gave Jason Kidd a much-needed break on defense. Kidd's working out of the post against Parker made the Spurs react defensively with double-teams -- opening up lanes to the basket. And extending the rotation by playing Williams more minutes gave the Nets another big body to go against Tim Duncan and David Robinson.
Williams had no idea he'd play so much -- he didn't play in Game 2 and received just 15 minutes in the series through the first three games. That Williams is more mobile than Dikembe Mutombo and Jason Collins makes him the Nets' best center against the Spurs' zone defense. So when the Spurs went to their 3-2 set, Scott called on the guy known to his teammates as "A-Train."
"He's our best finisher (among centers) around the basket," Scott said of Williams.
Williams is accustomed to playing in obscurity. When Xavier upset Georgetown in the second round of the 1990 NCAA Tournament, Tyrone Hill and Derek Strong got credit for taking down a heavily favored Hoyas team led by Alonzo Mourning and Mutombo. But it was Williams, then a freshman, who put the Musketeers up for good in that game when he grabbed an offensive rebound and scored over Mourning with just less than two minutes left.
Despite being named the Defensive Player of the Year and to the first team of the Midwest Collegiate Conference his senior season at Xavier, Williams went undrafted when he left Xavier in 1993. So his path to a second straight NBA Finals first took him twice to Europe and three seasons in the CBA. This is Williams' seventh NBA stop, and the first time in his career he's played three seasons with one team.
"I've played on some pretty bad NBA teams," said Williams, whose previous NBA stops include Denver, Vancouver and Washington. "So to be where I'm at today, I'm happy."
Whether he plays or not.
"It could be one minute. It could be 40," Williams said. "Whatever it is, I'll be ready."
Jerry Bembry is general editor (NBA) for ESPN The Magazine. You can reach him via e-mail at Jerry.Bembry@ESPN3.com.
When the Spurs go to their 3-2 zone defense, the Nets ride Aaron Williams to the basket.