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Practice Report: Suns focusing on poise, adjustments needed to win Game Four

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Williams is trying to get the young Suns’ heads straight, while making scheme adjustments to score better against the Lakers

Utah Jazz v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns practiced on Friday in Los Angeles after losing to the Lakers in Game Three of the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The Suns are now down 2-1 in the best of seven series, with Game Four on tap (Sunday at 12:30 PM, on ABC).

In Game Three, which was the Lakers first home playoff game in LA since 2013, the Suns succumbed to the Lakers’ bully-ball pressure and best-in-NBA defense, while LeBron James and Anthony Davis made all the offensive plays needed to take the series lead with a 109-95 win.

Game Three was a disaster in the second half, where the Suns got outscored 66-52. They got deflated when they missed shot after shot — non-Ayton players shot 35% from the field on Thursday. And then they got chippy to the refs, Lakers and fans. Eventually, Devin Booker was so frustrated and unfocused he got himself ejected with a shove to Dennis Schroder in the game’s final minute, with the Suns still down 10 points.

Now the Suns head to Game Four, needing to make more shots and keep their composure with point guard Chris Paul still ailing from his injured shoulder. They need to solve the Laker’s defensive schemes, which include helping off Paul and Jae Crowder to apply more pressure on Devin Booker when he has the ball. The Suns have had the league’s best offense since January 28, but their 296 points against the Lakers is their lowest three-game output since before Williams was hired.

Head coach Monty Williams and backup forward Cameron Johnson met with the media on Friday. Here is what they had to say.

Monty Williams

On whether, after looking at the film, he still believed the Suns got good shots in Game Three

“The shot quality from the eye test and from the film test was good, and when we looked at the data we received from our guys in Phoenix, it was the same. We’ve gone through segments like that this year and we’ve told our guys consistently, since I’ve been here, don’t think about it. Just let it fly. That’s our mentality.”

On Devin Booker handling the Lakers’ defensive focus on denying him shots

“I had a really good talk with Book today. He’s got to take the first shot that’s presented to him. He’s trying to make the right plays. He’s seeing a lot of bodies. And I talked to him about just letting it go. He wants to play in .5.”

On the Suns driving the ball into pressure rather than keeping the ball moving from player to player

“Our pass numbers have gone down in this series, we’re in like the 220s, 230s. The highest number we had game one with like 280 but that was them trapping us a lot. They’ve done less of that, and we’ve gotten into playing in a crowd a little bit. When the first shot is there we got to take it.”

“And obviously guys have to knock down shots. But we like the shots we’re getting. We feel like we can get better shots in our paint to great schemes. Every time we touch the paint we feel like we can get a good shot. That we have to focus on, making plays on the back side.”

On the team looking frustrated by missed shots, Lakers defensive pressure

“I think there’s a corporate knowledge that your team has... when it’s not done at the highest level, it can be deflating. But you have to have next-play, bounce-back mentality and not let it keep you in that deflation. When you’re in the playoffs, you’re going to be stressed because you’re going against the best.”

“We’ve taken away some of their stuff, and I’m sure that they’re frustrated. They’ve just had their two best players constantly make plays even when we’ve taken away their first and second option. With a young team like ours, with as many young players as we’re playing, this is the first time that they’ve dealt with the stress of not only playing against a playoff team but the number one defense in the league. So we have to embrace that you’re going to have some execution breakdowns but you have to also stay with it and move on to the next option. Most plays in the NBA don’t work because everybody knows what’s coming. It’s the environment, the spacing, the concepts that can help you when execution breaks down.”

On keeping their poise despite the antics and the intensity of a playoff environment

“I spent some time yesterday talking about the focus of our energy on the game, not the silliness that’s going on, with words that are said on the floor, fouls that don’t go our way. There has to be a poise, and Chris was talking about we have to have an edge also and I agree with him. But all of those things have to be done within the confines of the game. There are some things that are being said and done on the floor, probably both ways, that go outside of what basketball should be about. Way too much complaining, in my opinion, from both sides. We have to be focused on the game. That was a winnable game and we were able to cut it to eight, but then after that I thought the poise, mental stamina and stability kind of got away from us a little but and we can’t afford that especially on the road.”

“From day one when we came in, I told our guys that we are going to let wins or losses affect our mentality or the gym, and that’s our culture. We hope that our guys find stability in that. We understand all the variables. But in order to overcome, you have to be steady. Play basketball. This is not somebody being sent off to war, or losing a member of your family, like it’s basketball. It’s hard but it’s also fun. And you’re tested. Being in these moments reveal a lot about yourself. You can’t get to the next level if you run from this. I subscribe to Joshua 1:1 through 1:9 to be strong and courageous. And to implement that no matter what the situation. It’s a verse that I lean on when things aren’t going my way or they’re stacked against me. You can’t run from it. I got all these gray hairs on my head and less on my head for a reason, but I’m still here. I think our guys can pull confidence from that.”

On what he needs to see from guys off the bench

“I don’t want them coming out there being timid. I feel like the bench has won us games this year and I’m looking for that right now. Every good playoff team has a game or two where the bench comes in and sustains or increases the momentum. I thought Torrey had a huge impact on the game last night. And I want more of our guys to play like Torrey. He’s not playing reckless but he’s going after it. He’s not leaving anything on the bench. He’s leaving it all on the floor. And we need our guys to come in there and play that way. We haven’t shot the ball well, that takes away from the production but there’s other areas where you can have a huge impact.”

Cam Johnson

On being in his first playoff series

“It’s been intense. It’s been very intense. Obviously, when you sit back and look at it it’s a blessing to have an opportunity to play in the playoffs. It’s exciting. But yeah the intensity is definitely raised.”

On the Suns shooting woes

“Sometimes in environments like that the shots just aren’t falling. We just got to keep our heads and I think a big thing for us is getting stops, getting out in transition.”

On facing the same team game after game

“it’s definitely a chess match of sorts. They’ve done some things slightly different over the course of the three games. it’s the same team you’re going up against, but they’re doing things a little differently offensively, a little differently defensively. it’s just a chess match back and forth, adjustment after adjustment. And we’re trying our best to take advantage of what we find.”

On the impact that Cameron Payne has had on the Suns, and his energetic reaction to getting heckled by Lakers fans in Game 3

“He’s been playing really well for us for a big stretch of time now. He’s one of those guys who definitely infuses energy into the game for us. That little chirping, that just raises his level a little bit.”