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Monty Williams on punch-drunk Suns: “Let’s see what we are made of”

Losers of three straight games and saddled with injuries, the Suns will need every ounce of energy to win their next game.

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

With the loss to the surging New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday night, Monty Williams wants to see his team recover and overcome adversity together.

“I told our guys, look we had a nice run,” Williams said after the loss to the Pelicans. “We got hit in the mouth with injuries. Let’s see what we’re made of.”

More specifically, they got hit all around the midsection. The lower back (Rubio), the hip (Baynes) and the nethers (Ayton). The latter one coming from one of their own.

Can the Suns respond and get back to their winning ways?

It’s tough. When you include rookie Ty Jerome, who was so impressive as a backup playmaker and scorer in preseason, the Suns are down two of their top playmakers and their top two big men.

“The buzz will die down a bit, and now we can just focus on getting better.” Williams said. “This is the NBA. Our guys are more than able to do what they need to do to get better.”

He’s mentioned the “noise” a few times this season as being a distraction to the team. National media showing up to games and practices. National columns on the NBA’s most pleasant surprise. The Suns came out hyper-focused to start the season, but have lost some of that focus even before their old men went down with back and hip issues.

Williams’ mantra has been that “everything you want is on the other side of hard,” yet everything came easy to the Suns the first couple weeks of the season. Williams has said he’s worried about that.

Now that the Suns realize they are not invincible, that they haven’t already laid a whole new foundation for the future and the good times aren’t guaranteed yet, now the young guys can learn what it takes to win games.

On Thursday night, they came out unfocused to start the first and third quarters. New Orleans made 10 straight shots to open the third quarter to flip a seven-point deficit to a seven-point lead in the blink of an eye.

Two games in a row now, including the Kings game on Tuesday night, the Suns suffered a lull in intensity to find themselves down 7-10 points before turning on the urgency. Too little, too late.

“It’s our ‘hard’ right now,” Williams says. “That’s the hard thing we have to understand, that all of that stuff that happens in the beginning, it puts you in a bind.”

After the Pelicans took that third quarter lead, they never relinquished it. They kept making shot after shot, finishing with their season high of nearly 54 percent shooting overall and 16-35 from deep. The Suns just couldn’t keep up with them.

Just like on Tuesday night, when a Booker three brought the game to within three points in the final minute, on Thursday a Tyler Johnson fast break layup got them within two. But on both nights, the Suns offense stalled and the opponent closed out the game with big shots.

Defensively, the Suns have been exposed in the absence of Ayton and Baynes in the middle. Their scheme does not match the athletes left to run it. They are trying to switch on pick and rolls, but that leaves Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky on an island against the other team’s ball handler. And that’s almost never going to end well.

“I didn’t like Frank out there on Ingram,” Williams explained. “At some point he was going to be switched onto Ingram or Holiday, one of their smalls, so we’re just thinking of more athletic guys who can switch and keep the ball in front.”

Williams eventually had to scrap the Dario/Frank show in favor of going small with Mikal Bridges (season-high 36 minutes), rookie Cameron Johnson and Kelly Oubre all out there together.

Good news for the Suns:

  • Kelly Oubre Jr. with 25 points (7-17 shooting), 6 rebounds, 4 assists
  • Cameron Johnson with 14 points (4-6, 3-4 on threes), 2 steals
  • Mikal Bridges with 12 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals

Bad news for the Suns:

  • Brandon Ingram, Jrue Holiday and JJ Redick combined to shoot 29-54 from the field, including 9-18 on threes for 77 of NOLA’s 124 total points.
  • Pelicans shot a season-high 53.4 percent from the field as a team

Next up, the Suns have a back-to-back on the road in Minnesota and then Denver.

“This is kind of our first time hitting adversity,” Bridges said. “Losing three in a row, and now we’re on the road for two tough games back-to-back so we’re going to see how we’re going to go out there and play.”

The Suns will face teams with two of the best centers in the game — Nikola Jokic and Karl-Anthony Towns — while likely being down to just Frank and Dario and in the middle. We will for sure see how resilient these guys are.

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