BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- Deep down in a place most would not open for public viewing, Deron Williams understood the stakes. He's no dummy. He knew that if he delivered an indifferent Game 6 against the Toronto Raptors, he would not only be eliminated from the playoffs.
He would be eliminated from New York.
Maybe Brooklyn Nets general manager Billy King wouldn't be able to trade away the three years and $63 million left on his contract. Maybe Williams would return to the Nets out of necessity, leaving his team to sell the false hope that Jason Kidd, visionary point guard, would finally get the best out of his quarterback in Year 2.
But this much would be certain: The marketplace would be done with him as a franchise-shaping star. Nets fans would be much like the Mets fans who eventually cried uncle on all those maddening, high-priced stars from other places, everyone from Robbie Alomar to Jason Bay.
That's pressure, and in his three-plus years with the Nets, Williams has done a dead-on, Frank Caliendo-esque impression of someone who isn't fond of pressure. So as much as this was a sudden-death game for Brooklyn, it was a sudden-death game for Williams as well.
He responded with 23 points in this 97-83 Nets victory, setting a spirited tone early by speaking with the kind of body language he doesn't always apply. Williams had an urgent bounce to him, and he severely outplayed his more consistently passionate nemesis, Kyle Lowry, to send this series to Sunday's Game 7 in Toronto.
"He stood up to what was said," Kidd said of the pregame criticism his point guard faced, "and responded with one of his best games."
"I needed to be more aggressive after the last two losses," Williams said. "I know what my team needs me to do, and I wanted to come out early and do that."
The Nets are 3-0 in this series when their point guard scores at least 20 points, and 0-3 when he does not, meaning Williams and the ankle he rolled Friday night will be front and center in Game 7. And Williams has to realize something about that date in the Air Canada Centre, something he probably didn't want to hear in the giddy aftermath of Game 6:
He has to win that one, too. At the very least, in the event of defeat, he has to outdo Lowry again and stay clear of the top three or four reasons why his Nets failed to advance past the first round for the second consecutive year.
He's the major figure in his prime. He's the chief inspiration behind the Nets' all-in deal with Boston for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and behind Mikhail Prokhorov's choice to lay out close to $200 million in wages and taxes for this one-shot stab at a ring.
"Every move we've made since we acquired Deron Williams," said one team official, "was made because of Deron Williams."
The never-ending, futile pursuit of Dwight Howard. The trade for Joe Johnson and his monster contract. The hiring of Kidd, Williams' old idol. The deals for Pierce and Garnett. Even the deal for Gerald Wallace, which cost the Nets their lottery pick in the 2012 draft.
The pick that would become Portland's Damian Lillard, a much younger, faster, better and cheaper option than the veteran free agent the Nets kept for $100 million.