On guard » No. 8 joining elite company with his playoff play.
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Denver » Deron Williams had seen the designs his childhood friends Matt Mitnick and Ken Osunbor were working on, but had no idea the T-shirts would arrive during these playoffs -- perfect timing, as it would turn out.
With a "Gr8ness" logo on the front, the shirts borrow from Williams' jersey number and benefit his Point of Hope Foundation. To Mitnick and Osunbor, they offered a way to pay tribute to their friend, so often overshadowed in his basketball career.
"We always felt like no matter how much he proved himself, he never got the credit he deserved," Osunbor said. "The more and more he accomplished, the more we felt like 'greatness' was the way to describe it."
It certainly has seemed appropriate as Williams has pushed the Jazz to the brink of advancing to the conference semifinals, taking a 3-1 series lead into tonight's Game 5 against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center.
Along the way, Williams has become just the fourth player after Oscar Robertson, Kevin Johnson and Magic Johnson to total 20 points and 10 assists in each of the first four games of a series, staking his claim to the title of the NBA's best point guard.
"Against a good opponent, too," Kyle Korver added. "Chauncey Billups is a good player. He's been great in the playoffs for a long time. For [Williams] to come out and play like he has really shows."
"He's the best point guard in the NBA," Korver continued. "Around here, we've said that for a couple years now, but I think finally the country is being able to see that."
For all of Denver acting coach Adrian Dantley's talk of controlling Williams, the Nuggets have had no answer in this series. Williams has averaged 26.8 points and 12.0 assists while the Jazz have scored 112.3 points as a team and shot 51.8 percent as a team.
"Now when it all matters, when all the lights are on, everybody's watching, he's getting more attention," Carlos Boozer said of Williams, "but he's really been great the whole season."
Williams credited the Jazz's execution with producing such eye-popping numbers. "At times during the season we get away from those things," Williams said, "but I think we've been doing a great job of just staying with what we're capable of doing."
As for the "Gr8ness" shirts, Mitnick and Osunbor originally made them for Williams' friends and family. They'd watched Williams play in the shadow of Bracey Wright in high school, Dee Brown in college and Chris Paul in the NBA all while coming into his own.
"I've never met anyone so good at anything he does," Osunbor said. Mitnick jokes that he's still waiting for his second ping-pong victory against Williams after winning the first time they ever played.
With more and more people asking about the shirts, Williams' friends decided to print more and start selling them. They are available in two colors -- black for $18 and white for $15 -- at Addiction Clothing in Bountiful and by e-mail at email@example.com.
Between the calls and text messages so far, Mitnick said, "My phone just doesn't stop ringing." He estimated having sold 150 shirts, with another 200 arriving Tuesday, and has visions of an arena full of fans wearing "Gr8ness" shirts someday.
It would be a Utah version of all of LeBron James' "Witnesses" in Cleveland. As for his play against the Nuggets, Williams has been in attack mode almost every quarter with few exceptions.
"The expectations of him are great expectations every time he steps on the floor. That's just who he is and that's the way it works," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "He's a terrific player and he came in with great confidence in himself and has played extremely well."
The Nuggets have tried to slow Williams with Arron Afflalo on defense, tried to trap him off the pick-and-roll, tried to deny him the ball in the backcourt and tried to keep him from taking off in transition. So far, little has worked.
"I feel like I can pick up my scoring at any time in the game," Williams said. "I don't too much worry about that. I try to get everybody involved because we need everybody playing well."
The second quarter in Game 4 offered an example of just how devastating Williams has been. He needed just 71 seconds after checking back in to hit Paul Millsap for a layup inside, Wesley Matthews for a three-pointer and Matthews for a layup on the break.
"There's not really a weakness to his game," Korver said. "There's a lot of good point guards out there, but most of them have something to their game that's not very good, whether they're not a very good defender or they're not a very good shooter.
"He's been coming off [screens] and shooting them quick. He manages the game. He gets everybody else involved. He's our best defender. Just the whole thing."
Although the "Gr8ness" shirts were started for Williams, Mitnick also can see them as a rallying cry for the Jazz, who lost Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur to injuries yet are one victory away from closing out the Nuggets.
"It's going to take greatness to get to where they want to get, especially being shorthanded and after everybody counted them out after Game 1," Mitnick said.
Williams delivering Gr8ness in series