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Williams on advancing to WCF: ‘A level of gratitude that I can’t even explain’

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The Suns’ coach has turned the trajectory of the franchise dramatically in his two seasons with the team

NBA: Playoffs-Phoenix Suns at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Two seasons after inheriting a Phoenix Suns team that finished with its second-worst record in franchise history, Monty Williams has taken the franchise back to the Western Conference Finals with its 125-118 win over the Denver Nuggets in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals on Sunday night at Ball Arena.

With their win over the Nuggets, the Suns are on a seven-game postseason win streak, their longest in franchise history. Williams has now four times the amount of playoff victories (eight) he had in two previous appearances as a coach with the New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans (2010-11, 2014-15).

Williams is the fifth Suns coach to take the team to the conference finals, joining his former coach at Notre Dame, John MacLeod (1975-76, 1978-79, 1983-84); Cotton Fitzsimmons (1988-1989, 1989-90); Paul Westphal (1992-93); Mike D’Antoni (2004-05, 2005-06); and Alvin Gentry (2009-10).

Phoenix has posted a 2-7 record in the Western Conference Finals and fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in its last appearance in 2009-10. The Suns will look to the advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1992-93, when they lost to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in six games.

“I think the emotions are happy, grateful, tired, relieved,” Williams said. “And it’s one of those moments for me that, quite frankly, I never thought I’d have a chance to experience. So for me, I just have a level of gratitude that I can’t even explain.”

Here’s more of what Williams had to say after the Suns’ Game 4 victory.

On his emotions after moving on through another round in the postseason and the hug he shared with starting point guard Chris Paul after the game:

“I think the emotions are happy, grateful, tired, relieved. And it’s one of those moments for me that, quite frankly, I never thought I’d have a chance to experience. So for me, I just have a level of gratitude that I can’t even explain. That’s the deal. And then with Chris and I, for me to coach him my first year and then he went on to a different team, for us to be together again and be in that moment and know that we can accomplish more, it’s pretty cool. At the same time, I wanted to take a second to just feel that for a minute, feel that for a second with him (starting shooting guard) [Devin Booker]. Chris has meant so much to my career, he’s meant so much to my life. I’ve shared with a few people, but at the darkest moment of my life, Chris was right there. And one of the highlights of my career, he’s right there. So I’m just grateful to God for him and all of our guys, and that’s what it is right now. I’m not really good at waxing eloquent about how I feel other than just telling you I just feel grateful for this opportunity and to be on this team and this moment and have a chance to move forward.”

On the Suns’ huddle during the review of Nuggets’ starting center Nikola Jokic’s Flagrant 2 foul and what he saw moving forward:

“We talked about that. It was two series in a row where we had that kind of incident. And didn’t really think it was anything malicious but in those moments, you have to regulate your emotions. And that’s what we’ve been talking about all season long. And so Chris got the guys together, talked about it. I got them together and talked about it, and everybody was on the same page. We’ve been talking about winning, and in those moments, we got to get back to the task at hand and we did that.”

On the focuses of the Suns’ time in between the Western Conference Finals:

“I mean, everybody at this point is banged up and could use that type of recovery. We’ve earned it, and we want to take advantage of it. So I’ll talk to the coaches and our medical staff, training staff and see the best way to approach these next few days. But right now, I ain’t thinking about that man. I’m just happy about what these guys have accomplished and grateful to be a part of it. I hope our fans back in Phoenix and in the state of Arizona are feeling the same way I do. This is a special time to be a Suns fan, and everybody should enjoy it right now.”

On Paul’s performance:

“I mean, what can you say? Other than he was darn near perfect all night long. Scoring the ball, managing the clock. He and I had communication throughout the game on what was working. They made some adjustments in their pick-and-roll defense, so we had to change up the way we ran our stuff. We got more in the middle of the floor, and he’s just an unbelievable basketball player. But more than that, he has a will to win. And it’s impressive to watch and fun to be a part of.”

On Paul saying in his TNT postgame interview that people had begun to write him off and the fuel that he has to lead this team:

“I’m happy that the people did do that, because it fueled an already highly-competitive, strong-willed maestro of a point guard and basketball player. You never want to count out a guy like Chris, and what he’s been able to do for our program is, I’d be here all day talking to you all day about the things that he’s brought to the staff, to the players. I’ve told our local writers about, they’ve learned about diet, hydration, different methods of working out. But more than that, I think our guys can see his will every single day. He’s competitive, he cares and I’m glad to be a partner with him. For me personally, I’ve had the most success as a coach when I’ve had Chris, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. He’s an unreal basketball player, a great dude and I’m just glad he’s our point guard.”

On the Suns improving from sixth to second in defensive rating in the postseason and where he’s seen improvement:

“Well, (Suns assistant coach) Willie Green has led that charge. He’s run the defense all season long. The will of our guys on the floor, a lot of times you run schemes and things of that nature, but for the most part, you see guys running around, putting out fires when they need to be put out. And then (Suns starting center) [Deandre Ayton], he’s the anchor. That kind of presence in the paint, athletic guy who can block shots and guard different positions. Adding (starting forward) Jae (Crowder), for sure, has helped our defense. He guarded everybody in this series, and (starting forward) Mikal (Bridges) typically guards the toughest wing. And we have him all over the plays guarding ones, twos, threes. So yeah, competitive guys like Chris and Book, Chris has been an all-defensive guy pretty much his whole career. That has really helped us, and then the guys off the bench come in and they just play really hard. And that’s most of it for us, is the effort and will on the defensive side of the ball.”

If this year to similar to previous organizations and teams he’s been with that he thought could be special:

“I felt that earlier in the year when our guys didn’t complain about all the obstacles that were in front of us. From the changes in the day, the COVID(-19) testing, the crazy schedule. I don’t think I heard our guys complain one time about it. We’ve always approached the game with a, ‘Get to,’ not a, ‘Got to,’ mentality. We get to play basketball, we get paid a lot of money and our team enjoys playing. So you could kind of see it early on — if we could persevere through those obstacles and a few things can go our way in the playoffs, you never know. And again, the competitive will of our players. Book, Chris and Jae, those guys, they don’t want to lose anything. The arguments that we all have on the bench are legendary, but it’s all in an effort to win games. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself or get happy on the farm, but you could see a perseverance about our team this season when I didn’t see guys complaining about the things they could have complained about.”

On the key to having poise in the postseason:

“I think what people misunderstand is, we want everybody to just be passive in those moments and that’s not the deal. We’re not wanting our guys to be choir boys, because we’re not singing. So we have to keep our edge but you also have to understand the moment, and I think the key for us is recognizing when we need the poise but then rallying around each other in case one guy is a little off with his mental capacity. That’s what happened tonight — Chris got the guys together, Jae was talking. (Backup guards) E’Twaun (Moore) and Langston (Galloway) were doing the same thing and probably a few other guys. I think the connection of our team helped us and has helped us in those moments this year, when quite frankly, we all lose it at times.”

On Booker having 34 points in his second closeout game and his performance in the playoffs:

“He’s not afraid of the moment. That’s the deal. I’ve been around a lot of players, and a lot of guys talk about what they may do on this stage or hoping that they get there. I’ve watched him for two years work his tail off so he could be ready for these moments and this stage. He’s fearless, and sometimes that fearlessness drives me nuts. But for the most part, his fearlessness helps us on the big stage and it has throughout these playoffs. So I’m not surprised, I don’t take it for granted, but I’ve watched him work and I’ve watched his focus. And he and I have talked about this for pretty much two years. We didn’t know it’d be this soon, but I think this was a part of our conversations when he and I talked about getting to this point and having a chance to move on.”