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Deron Williams was anything but 'soft' in Game 2

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The Mavericks point guard shed some unflattering labels that had been hanging on since his days in Brooklyn.

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Do a quick Google search for "Deron Williams soft" and this is what you'll see:

Aside from a recent story from a local TV station, every single one turns up results from Williams disastrous stint in Brooklyn. Williams never ushered in an era of dominance the Nets would have hoped when moving to the borough. He was hurt constantly and put up mediocre numbers.

Former teammate Paul Pierce pretty much threw Williams under the bus later, saying Williams wasn't a guy that wanted to do whatever it took to achieve an MVP-level of play.

It seems insane to think that Deron Williams -- the one labeled soft and injury-prone the last five years -- was the same Williams that is getting name-dropped by Rick Carlisle as being the inspiration for one of the biggest NBA playoff upsets in 20 years.

Somehow, here we are. I was amazed watching Williams limp off the court after gutting out 26 minutes of extreme pain from a sports hernia. Williams' stat line from Game 2 was modest -- 13 points and five assists with four turnovers, but the pain he endured was extraordinary if you believe what you were watching on Monday night. Williams could barely walk when he finally checked out of the game midway through the third quarter and remained on the bench, covered in ice packs as the Mavericks finished off the most improbable win in these young playoffs.

"None of this would be possible without Deron Williams," Carlisle said after the 85-84 win over the Thunder.

He's right. None of it would. Every Maverick in the locker room after the game praised Williams toughness and it surely inspired the rest of the Mavs to play through their own ailments. If Deron can play with his groin muscles wanting to fall off the bone, I'm sure Dirk Nowitzki thought he could play with a sore knee, or Devin Harris could gut out some messed up fingers.

It's tough to quantity leadership and toughness in today's NBA, no matter how hard talking blowhards on TV want to make it out to be. We live in a world where every player's movement is tracked, every shot measured and every step compiled into a database.

We know how good someone shoots when a player takes exactly three dribbles before a jump shot. We know how well a team plays when a certain combination of three players share the floor at the same time. Hell, we know how many miles players travel just running up and down the court during a game. We know a lot.

Yet there isn't a number for what Williams did on Monday night. We have his box score, which is funny because it didn't even reflect that Williams helped all that much. He was 5-of-9 from the field, his 13 points third best on the team and the Mavs were even a minus-7 during his run on the floor. The headlines from Monday night revolved around Raymond Felton's heroics, Wesley Matthews insane defense, Justin Anderson's ascension to big-time contributor and even Salah Mejri's huge defensive impact.

Even then, I doubt the Mavericks win without Williams. After being embarrassed in Game 1, Williams set the tone early. He canned his first four shots en route to 11 points and the Mavs took a quick eight point lead. Considering how scary-dangerous the Thunder are in first quarters, the Mavs establishing right from the start that it wasn't going to be easy for OKC was huge. This was going to be a fight and Williams threw the first punch.

Perhaps the best part of Williams' minutes isn't what he did on the floor directly but what his presence prevented. A banged up Harris only played 26 minutes thanks to Williams, a much more effective number for Harris to remain a positive factor -- anytime Harris is forced to go 30-plus minutes, he seems to get overexposed. Matthews "only" played 36 minutes since Williams provided another body in the rotation and those short breathers Matthews was able to get thanks to Williams allowed Matthews to provide as much energy as possible to stopping Kevin Durant and spurring him on to his brick-tastic evening.

As Williams got weaker, his teammates were stronger. When Williams hobbled to the bench for the last time, the "soft" Deron Williams from Brooklyn was nowhere to be found. In his place was a point guard that would play through hell to get a playoff win -- a stark contrast to last year's point guard's inexcusable give up in round one. Rajon Rondo and to an extent Monta Ellis' moodiness seemed to bring the whole team down last year. It's nice to see teammates that inspire for once.

I'm not sure where this leaves Williams for the future, as his average season numbers pale in comparison to his clutch shooting and now, his clutch toughness. That's a discussion for another day. All Williams cares about is being on the floor again Thursday night.

"I got three days now to get treatment and do what I can do to get it back ready and go again," Williams said. For him, it's as simple as that.