He did not start.
But oh did Deron Williams ever finish.
Looking every bit the part of the No. 3 overall selection in the most-recent NBA draft, the former University of Illinois star guided the Jazz to a 93-82 victory over Dallas in a Delta Center thriller that not only opened Utah's 2005-06 season but also offered the first chapter in — if Wednesday night was any indicator — what could prove to be quite a storied career.
Williams merely came off the bench to score 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field in 26 minutes, including a spectacular 61-foot 3-pointer that beat the third quarter-ending buzzer and ignited a fourth-quarter Jazz rally.
The final-period comeback was directed by Williams himself, and starred 27-point game-high scorer Mehmet Okur.
"He played OK," Jerry Sloan said of Williams in an understated manner one could only expect from the grisly Jazz coach.
"For his first game, I thought he was under control and knew what he was doing," Sloan added. "A couple of times he did get a little confused — but that's be to be expected."
Trying to sell "OK" to a well-below-sellout Delta Center crowd of 18,249, however, might be a little like trying to convince Jazz fans that those two characters known in these parts simply as Stockton and Malone were merely decent.
"He was huge for us," Okur said.
Williams' heave from well behind the halfcourt line — punctuated with a flick of the wrist only the most ultraconfident of shooters can pull off — electrified an anxious spectator base that endured a trying 26-56 season in 2004-05.
It pulled the Jazz, who had been down by five two minutes earlier in the period, to within two at 67-65 and sapped the Mavericks of whatever energy they had left after opening their own season Tuesday with a double-overtime win in Phoenix.
"I'll take them any way I can get them," Williams said. "Everyone needs a little luck in their life."
Sloan grumbled — jokingly, one can only hope — when asked about the dramatic buzzer-beat.
"I didn't call bank . . . but next time I will," Sloan deadpanned. "Sometimes you just get a lucky shot."
But that would not be all the luck the Jazz had on this night — nor would it be all the heroics Williams would provide.
With the Jazz down 75-73 in the fourth, Williams — who came off the bench behind Keith McLeod, a part-time starter at the point last season — hit a 3-pointer to make it 76-75 Utah.
A couple of possessions later he drove for a layup that put the Jazz ahead 78-75 with six minutes and nine seconds remaining, and Utah never trailed after that.
The Mavs did get back to within one a couple of times after that, but a 3-pointer from Okur — hit after a nifty crosscourt pass from Williams, one of his three assists on the night — gave the Jazz some breathing room at 84-80.
"Memo (Okur) can shoot the ball out there," Sloan said of Okur, who made 10 of 17 from the field, including 2-of-2 trey tries. "There was never any doubt about that — but Deron was able to find him. That's the big key."
Okur followed up with a shot almost as improbable as Williams' 61-footer, banking in a desperation 28-footer as the shot clock ran down to make it 87-80.
"They just kept busting their behinds to try and give us a chance to win the ball game," Sloan said of his Jazz, who play their road opener Friday night at Golden State before returning to the Delta Center to face Phoenix on Saturday night. "We happened to have a little bit of luck with some of those shots that went.
"But you have to have some luck on that," he added. "And the most important thing is that you give yourself luck, when you work hard and play hard."
For at least one night, though, the fortune Williams enjoyed seemed to be something much more than lady luck.
Even the Mavs found it hard to debate that point.
"He played real composed," Dallas swingman Josh Howard said of Williams. "He didn't play like a rookie. They got a star in that guy right there."