Monty Williams took full blame for how the Suns played while losing to straight to teams playing for a draft pick over the weekend, but his humility in that moment did not tell the truth of what happened.
To change the culture of the Suns organization, the right amount of emphasis needs to be put into moments like these. There is no way to overreact to dropping two games to the woeful Pistons and Warriors. It was losses like those that turned seasons on their head in years past.
Williams knows that, and it’s why he owned the failure.
“The mentality this time of the year has to progress and change,” Williams said at shootaround before the Raptors game on Tuesday. “We’re not ever going to get to this point in the season and be like, same old, same old.
“So to answer your question, I’m going to do everything I can with adjustments to rotations, to tweaks so we can have opportunities to win the game.”
After ripping the mere idea of the playoffs after losing to Golden State, Williams’ public message shifted. It’s about placing value on this time of the year when so many other teams tank, and having pride in what happens every night even as the playoffs skate from view.
It was a good reminder of the foundational principles Williams, James Jones and Ricky Rubio were brought in to help instill — not skipping steps, getting better month by month.
“Expectations were high after the All-Star break and playing in a good rhythm, and then you slip two games that you’re supposed to win,” Rubio admitted. “We just have to learn how to (not) listen and (not) think about what’s ahead, just today.”
Getting better monthly is hard when you lose core players to injury seemingly every other week — the Suns were certainly caught off-guard by the Kelly Oubre Jr. injury — but there have been signs of improvement throughout the year. It’s a far cry from the 2018-19 season, when apart from glow-ups in December and February, the Suns were downright abominable.
Despite losing to the Raptors, the Suns went into the half ahead and were able to stay in the game despite it being played completely on Toronto’s terms. Typically, if the Raptors can turn the game into a free-for-all, it favors them. But after Williams called for his players to trust one another more in the half court offense, they generated 39 mostly open three-pointers and assisted on 30 of their 39 made field goals.
“We responded good in the first part of the game, I think we really showed up,” Dario Saric said. “For us, I kind of thought because we were obviously supposed to win the last two games before this one and they were injured, maybe it was a good situation for us to beat them, but I don’t know what really happened.”
Saric wasn’t the only one still struggling with the loss. Cameron Johnson was distraught about how many open threes he missed, while Devin Booker got stitches in his mouth and Deandre Ayton needed crutches to walk back to his locker. It was a tough game.
Still, the Suns responded. It was not the same old Suns. The leadership of the team banded together to lift players up, and though they suffered another tough loss, the players were pleased with their ability to bounce back. They found the pride and the energy to keep fighting, even when it’s so easy to drift.